LOS ANGELES – As the fortunes of college football go, Arizona State University is down on its luck. Way down.
The Sun Devils are ranked 87th by The Athletic, 94th by College Football News and a painful 103rd by CBS Sports this week – each out of about 130 teams overall.
Contrast that with the Sun Devils’ ranking a year ago during this time: 22nd going into Week 5 in the Associated Press poll, which lists the top 25 teams.
The fall from grace is bad enough – and even worse when put into perspective.
CBS Sports ranks ASU football below the University of Arizona, which is ranked 72nd. The Wildcats have lost to the Sun Devils five years in a row, including 38-15 and 70-7 blowouts in their past two meetings. But with a ranking that’s more than 30 positions above the Sun Devils, UArizona faculty and students may feel this is their year to win the Territorial Cup.
Now, all eyes are on Saturday when ASU, under interim coach Shaun Aguano, faces Utah and has a chance to redeem itself. But it won’t be easy to beat the Utes – or the two opponents that follow, USC and Washington.
All three teams are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 College Football Poll. Utah is 13th, USC is seventh and Washington 18th. Utah and Washington are coming to Tempe, while USC will play at home in Los Angeles.
What does ASU need to do to right the ship?
“They need to play better, and that might be a slow process at this point,” said Doug Haller, who covers Arizona for The Athletic. “It’s hard to know what to expect, and I don’t think we will get any answers any time soon
How did ASU see its troubles mount and face such a precipitous rankings fall?”
Sun Devil football went through one of its toughest preseasons in its history after a huge outflow of talent. It saw the departure of five assistant coaches. Eleven players were signed or drafted by NFL teams. Many others, including quarterback Jayden Daniels, transferred to other college teams.
Recent player and coach departures came after an ongoing NCAA investigation into ASU’s recruiting practices. The probe stemmed from an NCAA ban on in-person recruiting during COVID-19-related restriction periods.
ASU opened the season with a win over Northern Arizona, then got beaten on the road by Oklahoma State. The early warnings turned to outright crisis last week when ASU fell at home to Eastern Michigan University. The 30-21 victory was the first by a Mid-American Conference football program against a PAC-12 team during the regular season.
Before its win, Eastern Michigan was ranked the sixth worst college football program out of 131 Division 1 NCAA schools by CBS Sports.
The ASU loss prompted the sudden departure of head coach Herm Edwards. Although the NCAA investigation, recruiting issues and player departures might have eventually led to Edwards’ departure anyway, the Eastern Michigan loss couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“Now, coming off the coaching change, they face what looks like the hardest part of their schedule in Utah, USC and Washington,” Haller said.
Reporter Brad Denny, who covers ASU sports for 3TV and CBS 5, said Edwards’ departure may change the whole tenor of ASU’s play – perhaps for the better.
“It leaves a lot of questions up in the air on what kind of Sun Devil team this is,” Denny said. “If they come out of Utah after the coaching change with some energy, even if they fall short it will answer that this is probably a team that still has some talent and pride.
“But if they’re something similar to last Saturday, it’s going to be a rough couple months ahead.”
The Sun Devils need to “turn the page” on the Edwards era, he said, and “show some life, show some fire.”
When it comes to rankings, however, it isn’t just about the Sun Devils performance.
Haller said if Eastern Michigan can continue winning after its victory, last week’s ASU loss “won’t look as bad.”
And he pointed out that college football rankings can get pretty wild in the early weeks anyway until patterns are established.
“I still think in college football sometimes there is an overreaction in the first month because no one really knows who is good and who is not,” Haller said. “We won’t probably get a feel for what this Arizona team is until at least mid-October to November.”