Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sun Devils' future non-conference opponents

Originally Published 12/4/2009
Last Updated 4/3/2014 with the announcement of the LSU series.

This post starts with a strong caveat: much of this information will probably change in the years ahead. With that said, fans are always interested in examining future schedules, so I wanted to keep an up-to-date summary of what we know. I will update this article over time as new announcements are made.

This topic became especially relevant prior to the 2010 season, where the scheduling of two FCS opponents kept the Devils out of a Bowl game. Fortunately, our future non-conference schedules are much stronger.

Remember that with the Pac-12 schedule, in odd-numbered years we have five conference home games, including divisional opponents USC, Colorado and AU. In even-numbered years, we play only four conference home games (including Utah and UCLA). It's going to be a lot harder to sell season tickets in those even-numbered years. The Pac-12 will no longer announce the conference schedule years in advance. They will now wait until the new year to set the schedule for the coming season. This allows the conference to ensure good games for the new Pac-12 Network based on each team's projected performance. However, we do know which Pac-12 teams ASU will play each season through 2018.

Let's review the out-of-conference schedule. As most fans know, the traditional philosophy behind the non-conference scheduling has been to have an "A", "B" and "C" level opponent. The additional requirement is to have at least two of the games at home, especially in even-numbered years when we only have four conference games at Sun Devil Stadium. However, from 2011-13 we saw more of an "A, A, C" model. DevilsDigest.com published a Q&A with Associate Athletic Director Mark Brand in February 2010 that explains the process in a lot of detail. I never understand fan criticism of our scheduling, because most neutral parties see our out-of-conference schedule as one of the best year-in, year-out.

Jeff Metcalfe's articles in the Republic from September 2009 and February 2010 do a great job of describing the problems finding non-conference opponents, and Doug Haller's article from September 2012 explains how the new playoff will impact non-conference scheduling.

The "A" level opponent is from a BCS Automatic Qualifier conference. In recent seasons, Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin have been "A" level opponents. ASU was planning to play a home-and-home series with LSU in 2015 and 2016 but that series has been indefinitely postponed.

Ideally, we should play an "A" level opponent at home in even-numbered years to counter the lack of quality Pac-12 opponents. We achieved that goal for 2012, 2014 and 2016 after striking out in 2010.

The "B" level opponent is from a FBS non-AQ conference such as the MWC or C-USA. In the past, these schools may have played twice at ASU in return for one game at their site, but is seems like we will have a harder time finding "B" level opponents in coming seasons. New Mexico is the next opponent in this category in 2014-15, followed by UTSA and San Diego State. Each of these series are home-and-home.

The "C" level opponent is usually an FCS school, and is always going to be an opponent that does not require a return visit. We try to schedule NAU as often as possible for this slot, which is a nice way to keep the money in-state.

Coach Todd Graham has placed additional emphasis on recruiting in Texas, and games in Texas are of special value. After playing Notre Dame in Dallas in 2013, ASU plays in Houston (2015), San Antonio (2016) and Lubbock (2017).

So let's review the current plans for future seasons. Click on links for announcements of specific games. Actual dates shown when known.

Year BCS AQ FBS non-AQ FCS Pac-12 Misses
2014 Notre Dame* (11/8) @ New Mexico (9/6) Weber State (8/30) Oregon
Cal
2015 Texas A&M** (9/5) New Mexico (9/19) Cal Poly (9/12) Oregon State
Stanford
2016 Texas Tech (9/10) @ UTSA (9/17) NAU (9/3) Oregon State
Stanford
2017 @ Texas Tech (9/16)New Mexico State (9/2) -- Washington State
San Diego State (9/9) Cal
2018 TBD UTSA (9/1) TBD Washington State
@ San Diego State (9/8) Cal
2019 TBD TBD TBD TBD
2020 BYU (9/19) TBD TBD TBD
2021 @ BYU (9/18) TBD TBD TBD
2022 LSU (9/10) TBD TBD TBD
2023 @ LSU (9/9) TBD TBD TBD

* ASU was originally due to play at Notre Dame in 2017 but that game was later canceled.
** The Texas A&M game in 2015 will be played at Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

And now the season begins

Prior to the start of the season, I predicted a 6-3 conference record for the Devils, and an 8-4 overall record. So far the season has gone exactly to form. The USC game was far more important than any of the others, and we won that one.

So here we sit on October 8: 1-0 against the Pac-12 South, 1-1 in the Conference. We still control our own destiny. According to Sagarin, we're the 20th ranked team in the country having played the nation's 7th toughest schedule. Wisconsin (18) and ASU are the only two-loss teams in the top 20.

The biggest concern at this time isn't so much the Devils (we are pretty much who we thought we are) as the other teams remaining on our schedule. Colorado is still weak, but they're improving. The road games at WSU and Utah will not be easy, and the home games versus Washington, Oregon State and UNRB are all dangerous. And that's not to mention the big game at the Rose Bowl on November 23. So while my 6-3 conference prediction is still very attainable, it's also not hard to see us ending the year at 4-5.

One stat that is very much NOT in the Sun Devils' favor: ASU lost the conference opener at Stanford. In 35 seasons of Pac-10/Pac-12 play from 1978 through 2012, ASU has lost the conference opener 19 times. In those seasons the Sun Devils have gone a combined 63-82-2 in conference games (a 43.5% win percentage). However, in the 14 seasons in which the Sun Devils won the first conference game, the composite record is 69-45-0 (a 60.5% win percentage). We tied our opener in 1983 and 1986 and finished a combined 9-4-2 in those seasons.

Since 1982, ASU has only once (in 1999) lost the conference opener and finished with a winning conference record. Conversely, 1994, 2008 and 2011 were the only seasons where the Sun Devils won their conference opener but finished below .500 in the Pac-10/12.

So if ASU does finish this season at 5-4 or better in the Pac-12, it will be just the second time in 30 years that we've bucked this trend.

Note: this article updates my original research from 2008.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Monday, August 6, 2012

Season tickets are in the mail!

Season ticket holders are starting to report that their tickets are arriving in the mail. Always a good sign that football is just around the corner! This season the package includes a copper and gold pitchfork (thanks to mDevil for the picture!).

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sun Devil Olympians

Love to see Sun Devil Olympian Kelsey Campbell throwing up the pitchfork during the Olympic opening ceremonies. Follow all of ASU's representatives in London on twitter by subscribing to this list.

Pre-season workouts wrap up

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring Practice Starts!



Left lane, hammer down!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why the age bias?

Gaddabout returns with a follow up to his earlier article Why ASU needs a young coach and staff, which generated an unusually high number of comments.

Many of you have responded to my previous post. I will do my best to address my point of view on salaries as a response in that thread when I have time later in the day. I felt I needed more space here to explain my perspective about my preference for a young coach.

It’s not an age bias as much as it’s a perspective bias. Established head coaches have their own staffs and their own systems. It’s very unlikely they’re going to take input into how they run the program, and that’s a problem unless you’re hiring someone who already understands the unique challenges at ASU.

It requires a lot of money to hire a coach of good reputation, and ASU needs something else besides reputation. It does ASU no good if they receive a positive press conference review in the media only to be in the same position five years down the road. In the 31 years since Kush was forced out, ASU’s had six coaches and average about six wins a year. It’s time ASU worry most about getting it right more than winning the press conference. Instant perception should not matter. Selling a few thousand more seasons tickets next year pales in comparison to how many more tens of thousands season tickets the right coach will sell over the course of 10 or 20 years.

Why is that important? Because ASU isn’t just any school. It’s not any program. It’s not plug-and-play Top 25 football here, but I believe that’s the presumption with which we’ve been hiring coaches since Kush left.

It’s not enough to say ASU has to establish itself in recruiting. You have to say where. There have been three head coaches post-Kush that understood how to recruit for this program – Darryl Rogers, Bruce Snyder and Dennis Erickson – and only one of them understood the extreme nature of the problem (Rogers). You have to own turf in SoCal and the best 6 or 7 recruits in Arizona to compete at the highest level. Rogers said USC could take the best 5 recruits in this region and he’d take the next 25. If there were one line to explain ASU’s mission, that would be it. In this age that requires a whole staff dedicated to acquiring the best talent. It’s not a burden that can be carried in the majority by two coaches. Not anymore.

We’ve already tried experimenting under Cooper and Marmie in Texas, the Midwest jucos, and specifically Chicago. Those staffs had some very good recruiters who did a great job finishing second and third on key recruits. Meanwhile, the local contacts withered and Washington and Oregon cashed in on ASU’s absence in SoCal and even in Arizona.

You also have to supplement with the strong Arizona and SoCal JCs, you just can’t afford to have such major deficiencies that you’re constantly counting on juco transfers to fill key positions such as left tackle or defensive tackle. The success rate of a juco player – even a mid-year transfer – is very low. They’re best served as depth chart fillers for the four-year players you’ve recruited and had in your system from the start. If you’re taking more than 5 a year, you’re putting ASU’s program in peril.

Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Pete Carroll was pure enthusiasm and positive energy when he took over USC at 50. He was a rare gem of a hire that people mocked until he had two years to really get the program moving forward. The common myth seems to be that Carroll wowed recruits with his NFL pedigree, but that’s just not reality. Carroll had two things working for him as a head coach: He had superstar SoCal recruiters on his staff like Ed Orgeron, and he himself was the rare head coach recruiter with charisma to spare. He also understood the culture and could speak the language, in the same way Bobby Bowden understood the South and could recruit the entire region at Florida State. Recruiting involves three important things: 1) Relationship, 2) relationship, and 3) relationship. Carroll understand that in an intuitive way. He never had to think about it. It’s hard-wired into his personality.

Show me someone like that, who’s pure charisma in a coach’s shirt, who gets the culture, and who understands the unique challenges at ASU, and I don’t care what the age of the coach is.

An age isn’t an issue if you have someone like Rogers or Snyder, who came with strong California pedigrees and had a rebuilding plan that matched ASU’s needs. Without any choices like those two on the list, the coaching search requires more vetting and an explicit explanation of what works and what doesn’t at ASU. It requires finding a coach who will listen and learn before hard-coding the program agenda, and hire a staff with the energy to pull it off.

Can you make a mistake on a young coach? Absolutely.

I maintain high respect for Dirk Koetter. I still think he was one of the best offensive minds in college football while he was here and the man knows how to run a staff and a program in a general sense. How he relates to his players was a separate issue, but that’s a much more difficult thing to judge from the outside looking in. And I maintain there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with his commitment to the 4-2-5 defense; it’s worked with phenomenal success at TCU for years.

Koetter’s teams were always so close, full of “if onlys.” If only they hadn’t missed three years straight on this position or that position. If only they had one more X or another Y. There was just enough talent and execution to tease you, but fall apart against the best teams – usually the California teams. It created the perception that Koetter’s X’s and O’s were only fit for mid-major football, but that defies the reality that Koetter’s offense was well-steeped in the NFL one-back tradition, and ASU did in fact switch to a conventional 4-3. No, the one major drawback was holes in the recruiting. Small holes that became big holes over several classes, and those same holes that became canyons on the depth chart in Erickson’s second and third years.

When Koetter left, he uttered his famous assessment of ASU: “It’s not what it looks like from the outside.” Or something to that affect. And he was right, to a degree. I suspect he came here with the same assumption most people make about ASU, that the facilities, the weather, the size of this market would make it easy to recruit. He found out the hard way that it’s much more complex than that: Arizona weather is not the easiest sell to kids in California and Dallas and Houston are MUCH farther away than they look on the map the moment you ask kids to move here. There is no natural deep well of recruiting for this school, and the margins for resources spent are thin. This is potentially a very good job, but it’s not an easy one, and the constant churn of head coaching turnover shows a history of coaches who simply don’t understand the program.

I’m not trying to sabotage the school or strong-arm administration by writing this. I’m merely speaking out now based on my 35 years of intense observation of what works at ASU and what doesn’t. I believe I had an epiphany during Koetter’s years about what makes this program tick, and only now do I see an advantage to shouting my point of view as loudly as possible. I’m wholesale convinced that ASU needs to do something radical, something different to change the culture.

But neither am I going to automatically indict any coach ASU hires. Once that guy gets to the podium, I’ll be everywhere returning to my evangelist role for the program. Every new hire gets the benefit of the doubt from me because every new hire deserves the chance to prove doubters wrong. And I will not hesitate to admit it if I’m wrong. I hope all of you feel the same way. This is not the NFL. College football is family, and you always support your family even when you disagree.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why ASU needs a young coach and staff

Today's guest author is Gaddabout, a long-time friend of Wired Devils. This article was originally posted to the Sun Devil Message Board.

Reality check.

Howard Schnellenberger forever changed the game of college football, and he doesn't get his due credit. Before Schnellenberger (BS), the head coach was God of college football, and you could build a program pretty much anywhere. Even in the middle of the desert. Frank Kush would show up with a station wagon full of starving west Pennsylvania kids just trying to get away from bleak future in mining. Later in, he learned to steal kids out of LA and Dallas to supplement, along with making sure there was no stone unturned in places like Morenci and Ajo and Florence. A coach could do that back then because there were plenty of secrets to be kept, and could be kept.

After Schnellenberger (AS), we have an oligarchy of programs with the most money, centrally located near the best recruits, supported by recruiting staffs that are the envy of corporate headhunting culture. It's a science now. And there are no secrets that can be kept. If there's an athlete in some desolate Kansas town, he's in a database somewhere and he's going to be sent a letter from someone.

Miami was about to kill their football program when Schnellenberger stepped in. He noted that Alabama was winning national championships with Florida players, many of them right out of Miami's backyard. And Schnellenberger would know. He was Bear Bryant's offensive coordinator at Alabama in the early 60s and a big-time recruiter -- he recruited Joe Namath to Alabama. He also brought with him a pro-style passing game, honed as Bob Griese's offensive coordinator during Miami's undefeated season, but that's another story.

Schnellenberger's rapid turnaround because of keeping Miami recruits home in Miami forever changed college football culture. ESPN, a new thing, made sure of it. It's the kind of inside info they knew the fans wanted. Suddenly the average fan began to become aware of Dade County recruiting. Then they became aware of SoCal, east Texas, Ohio, etc. People everywhere started to learn about how Penn State thrived on recruiting New Jersey. Kids of Louisiana dockworkers were no longer looking for opportunity wherever they could get it -- every school in the country knew who they were and wanted them to come to their school.

This is a different game now than when I first started following. And ASU is much less of a sleeping giant. Why? Because:
  • They don't have a built-in home-state recruiting advantage, partially because it's still not big enough, and partially because you have to large athletic programs feeding on it. Compare that to, say, LSU, where they're the alpha dog in a state with comparable (or often better) talent, and you get a different picture.
  • That weather advantage I often hear about? It's an awesome sales pitch to a kid in Chicago, who would love nothing more than a free trip to Tempe while he makes his college plans for Notre Dame, where his family can still come see him play. It's actually a DISadvantage within the region ASU needs to make a pitch, like San Diego or LA County, where they see us as slightly crazy for wanting to live here.
  • The name ASU built in the 70s and 80s is completely washed away. Think about this: The kids ASU is recruiting right now were born in 1994. They were 3 years old when Jake Plummer was leading ASU to the Rose Bowl. They have no idea who Danny White or Frank Kush is. There are likely only three things they know about ASU football right now: They have cool new uniforms, the girls are unbelievably hot, and Dennis Erickson just got fired.

ASU has to start over. Right now, it's name is on-par with mid-majors. It's a secondary or tertiary thought on the minds of the kids they need to steal from SoCal to get the program even close to where we want it to be. There are no built-in advantages to ASU other than MAYBE facilities, where it enjoys some status for the next few years.

Here's something else to think about: ASU is offering what has become the middling price for a head coach, about $2.5. That's pretty much mid-major money for a head coach. Sure, it's still probably in better half of all salaries, but not if you consider what it would take, say, Washington to replace their coach right now. If they wanted Sarkisian right now, they would have shelled out about $3.5 million. We are not even in the same area code as the Top 20 programs. That's the cost of doing business, and we're not capitalized well enough to expand into that kind of competition.

ASU has to go young, even if it means hiring a coordinator. That's what ASU can afford, and it's what it really needs, because this program is starting over. We can pretend it's still 1984 and ASU really is a sleeping giant. Or we can really look long and hard at reality and accept the failure started about 30 years ago, and we've merely been repeating that failed history over and over ever since.

It's time to do something new and bold.

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