Arizona State coach Todd Graham is a glass-half-full sort of guy. While a lot of Sun Devils fans were massively disappointed with the performance against Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, which cost the team a national ranking, Graham saw a bright side.
"[We are] really close in a lot of things," he said during his news conference Monday.
Perhaps Graham read the Pac-12 blog and its defense of "close?"
The glass-half-empty sorts will see a team that should be 4-1, one that was outcoached and outplayed by a middling Notre Dame team in Arlington, Texas. The glass-half-full sorts will counter that in August a 3-2 start would have seemed pretty solid.
Obviously, Graham leads the latter camp.
"We finished up the first third of the season and I think we are in good shape," Graham said. "I know that we are a lot better football team because of the schedule we just played."
And, really, as Graham repeatedly pointed out last week before playing Notre Dame, the Sun Devils season will be made -- or broken -- by the Pac-12 schedule. They are 1-1 in conference play and play host to Colorado on Saturday. They don't play Oregon, while South Division rival UCLA plays both the Ducks and Stanford. There is no reason to count Arizona State out of the division race.
As for what went wrong against Notre Dame, it was the Sun Devils defense making a previously struggling Fighting Irish offense look potent.
"The biggest thing that hurt us in the game was we did not have enough opportunities, not enough plays offensively," Graham said. "That had a lot to do with them sustaining drives and executing."
It also had a lot to do with the lack of a running game -- 65 yards rushing -- and an off-day for quarterback Taylor Kelly, who like his team continues to play much better at home than on the road. Kelly threw a pair of picks and missed several open receivers.
But dwelling on what might have been would be a mistake. And overlooking Colorado could lead to a costly and embarrassing evening.
“Obviously, the caliber of teams we have been playing and where [the Buffaloes are] at right now is a little different," Graham said. "Guys think that this will not be as big a challenge and you can’t do that. You have got to bring it because they can definitely beat you. There is not anybody in the Pac-12 that can’t beat anyone. There is great parity in this league. The danger is not taking a team seriously."
Colorado doesn't run the ball well and its offensive line won't be the match of Wisconsin, Stanford and Notre Dame, or even USC. That should give defensive tackle Will Sutton and outside linebacker Carl Bradford opportunities to make plays that have been eluding them.
The Sun Devils already have experienced dramatic ups and downs in their season. The question now is whether they can find consistency, and whether that consistency will be good enough to take the South, as they just missed doing a year ago.
Said Graham, "We have a lot better football team than we had at this time last year."