Archive for the ‘Brock Osweiler’ Category

It is about time the helmet and uniform colors change. After four weeks of battling against their comrades, Arizona State officially opens the 2011 football season on Thursday night.

The men across the line will look like Notre Dame, but don’t be mistaken, it is merely the UC Davis Aggies. Perhaps this opponent fits the “looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane” scenario with their uniforms. Still, the opponent across the line demands respect. If UC Davis can take advantage of a passive Bowl Subdivision opponent, they will.

In the past five seasons the Aggies have kicked two West Coast FBS teams out of their own stadium. San Jose State (14-13 Loss in ’10) and Stanford (20-17 Loss in ‘05), were the teams that were left embarrassed following those contests, and oddly enough, ASU fell victim to Stanford (45-35) that very same season.

ASU has felt thoroughly shocked and embarrassed on Frank Kush Field not too long ago themselves. The opponent was not a Championship Subdivision member, but the UNLV Rebels who left maroon and gold supporters wondering, “What happened?”

That September night in Tempe, an overtime debacle wrote the script on looking forward to your next opponent. In 2008 it was the Georgia Bulldogs, and it turned out “looking ahead” had nothing to do with ASU’s performance.

Eerily similar to ASU’s season opener on Thursday night, a looming nationally ranked opponent in the Missouri Tigers come to Sun Devil Stadium for a showdown.

But, this nightmare can’t unfold before Dennis Erickson’s eyes. Not this season, and not with this team.

The approach to every practice has been different. Instead of lackadaisical practice habits, the team begins practice with one goal in mind: the Bowl Championship Series. That tone has resonated for four weeks of practice.

“BCS” is the war cry. During Dennis Erickson’s inaugural season in Tempe, the team broke huddles with the next desired win count: “Eight, Nine, Ten, etc.”  It was something brand new to the football program that remembers the echoes of Dirk Koetter’s “Answer the Scratch” slogan and minimal rah-rah spirit beyond that.

The identity of the 2011 squad is entirely different. Many people believe the hype of the preseason publications regarding the Sun Devils. On the other hand, the team started the process following the 2010 season long before Phil Steele or the great Lindy’s printed a word.

As 13 players saw their eligibility run out, the maroon and gold’s core remained intact. Moreover, 27 seniors returned motivated by past failures and even deeper memories of glory. Many of the players in the starting lineup now, wore the redshirt tag during the Pac-10 Co-Championship season four years ago. They step on the front-lines now with a desire to taste their own piece of success.  

Along with 27 seniors, 20 juniors return that only know the feeling of turning in their jersey and equipment following the Duel in the Desert. Which makes it even more surprising “BCS” is the chant of choice.

Nobody wants to hear words this time of year. Now, It’s all about playing the game of football. Everything Erickson has built since his arrival in December of 2006 is hinging on the results and production on the gridiron this fall. Motivation is not thin on any coaching staff member or the players.

Mentally, the team is a year older in the offense. Emotionally, the team has areas where the reigns need to be held firmly, yet appear bold and secure with their swagger.

Physical ability against a live opponent is the only question mark remaining. Practice is practice, but the bright lights are entirely different. UC Davis will line up ready to battle looking for the upset.

On the other side of the ball, Arizona State will be ready to make their first statement of 2011, with and exclamation mark.

Get the fireworks ready on the buttes! Thursday night will be the first of many happy nights in Tempe.

Published on August 30, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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“Leadership” is a term that has been tossed around very loosely this offseason in Tempe, Ariz. Coming off a roller-coaster ride of near misses, fumbled opportunities and late-game meltdowns resulting in a 6-6 record, leadership and direction is an area of need.

Naturally, the centerpiece on offense carries the weight of a starving football community. The Sun Devils fan base is thirsty for a winner. After all, it has been a few years since ASU has had a winner.

Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Rudy Carpenter was the closest signal caller to a true winner, but even maroon and gold fans never fully embraced the school leader in all-time completions.

The ASU community has, however, already embraced Brock Osweiler. Although he is nowhere near 43 consecutive starts or 800 completions, Osweiler is writing his own story in the pocket.

His name was chanted as a true freshman while then-starting quarterback Danny Sullivan struggled with elite defenses. Head coach Dennis Erickson echoed the thoughts that the Montana product was “not ready.”

Once Osweiler got his shot against USC, his performance spoke volumes. However, Osweiler was still an inexperienced freshman.

With inexperience on the gridiron, Osweiler also dabbled with the thought of lacing up the high tops and playing basketball at ASU.

The decision was ultimately made for him as Steven Threet suffered a career-ending concussion against UCLA.

The bandwagon began to form for Osweiler and everyone in the valley was trying out for the lead guitarist role. However, more than a handful withheld judgment until Osweiler passed the test against in-state rival Arizona.

A leader, and a rising star, was born in Tucson.

Still inexperienced, Osweiler played like a poised veteran as the clock ticked down into overtime. Whether by ground or by air, Osweiler had the answers.

Now Osweiler has been celebrated for his leadership. Through his production and motivation, he has earned the title of team captain.

He is the frontman this Sun Devils band needed.

This team has witnessed countless misfortunes in heartbreaking fashion and Osweiler has been present for much, if not all of them.

Now, the results will be tabbed on his watch, and Osweiler wouldn’t have it any other way.

Since he picked up a football, Osweiler wanted to be a starting quarterback at a major Division I football program. His childhood dream is unfolding as he is writing each page with each snap.

The first chapter of his junior season will unfold against UC Davis.

From the first coin toss at Sun Devil Stadium, Osweiler will walk across the 50-yard line flanked by seniors Garth Gerhart and Colin Parker. The decision of heads or tails will be the easiest of the season.

After all, Osweiler is a natural born leader. Once the first snap is taken, all his decisions will be second nature. He has already made the passes and scored the touchdowns.

He is the voice of ASU’s rebuilding process. But will Osweiler be the voice of championship celebration?

Published on August 24, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

Football fans within the Pac-12 Conference borders know the names Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Darron Thomas and even Nick Foles of Arizona. Those are the stars at quarterback.

There appears to be a “giant” rising star in the desert with whom many are taking a wait-and-see approach. He is the 6’8″ Brock Osweiler, poised for a showcase season. After all, Osweiler has accepted the role as the face of hope in Tempe.

Osweiler was better than good in relief of Steven Threet last season.

His performances against UCLA were borderline heroic. But he is not a star yet.

Every west coast hurler wants to be mentioned with the greats, even the newcomers. But as we know, football is a team sport.

Stanford has a Heisman Trophy favorite calling the signals, but without Stepfan Taylor leading the way for the Cardinals rushing attack, Luck would be missing his sidekick.

Osweiler could brag about one advantage he has over Luck, excluding the difference in stature—a full stable of offensive linemen returning.

In fact, no other conference foe can boast as much.

Even in the pass-happy Pac-12, the game of football is still built with dominant offensive line play.

Dominance has not been on display consistently, but one cannot doubt the chemistry of Arizona State’s front wall.

One man at Stanford can’t win alone, and neither can Osweiler.

The Sun Devils have the most under-the-radar backfield in the conference. No one rushed for over 1,000 yards, and the quarterback has two starts in his career.

Even Washington State has a more widely-known passer than Osweiler. And Washington has a budding star in tailback Chris Polk.

Ball carriers in Tempe are speedy, agile, and yet still carry the physical punch. Speed can balance a game or blow it wide open.  Oregon has made a living off of that philosophy, with far more results in the blow-out column.

Arizona State’s backfield can be a two- or even three-headed monster. Perhaps the “can” in that statement is “under-the-radar” at its finest.

But Cameron Marshall, Deantre Lewis and Kyle Middlebrooks are the ideal combination of every coach’s dream backfield.

Marshall has the physicality and breakaway speed of the ideal every-down running back. Deantre Lewis, if healthy and physically recovered from a bullet wound, is prolific every time he touches the ball.

In 2010, Lewis showed he could not only pound the ball against the stiffest of defenses (122 yards vs. Wisconsin), but also show off his speed against Oregon with a 53-yard scamper.

Osweiler has plenty of options in the backfield, but none are more difficult to tackle than Kyle Middlebrooks. As a return specialist, he can blow a game wide open with one touch of the ball. As a tailback and a receiver, Middlebrooks brings that same style to the offense. 

There is no doubt Osweiler has the proper tools at his fingertips to succeed this season.  A 6-6 team turned preseason favorites is not rare, but Osweiler is shouldering the load of expectations.

Come September 9 against Missouri, the truth will be revealed regarding how far ASU can ride the train of momentum.

As with the other great quarterbacks in the conference, Osweiler is the conductor.

He showed as much versus UCLA, throwing for 380 yards and four touchdowns in a comeback victory that soon turned into a blowout.

And a national audience witnessed a leader grow before their eyes, as Osweiler gathered the Sun Devils in Tucson, AZ, last December proclaiming “Victory.”

Motivational speeches help build confidence, but real confidence and respect is earned on the field.

So far, the preseason publications have shown ASU respect with Top 25 rankings, but the leader is still relatively untested.

Osweiler, who became the first Sun Devil freshman to start at quarterback since Jake Plummer, has only two starts under his belt.

Needless to say, UC Davis will be the first measuring stick for Dennis Erickson’s squad, but not a true test.

When the bright lights of Friday night turn on at Sun Devil Stadium and the Missouri Tigers come to town, then “under the radar” will no longer be a phrase associated with Brock Osweiler’s Sun Devils.

Published on August 20, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

Arizona State is in a new situation. The Sun Devils are tabbed as preseason favorites in the Pac-12 South, with that carries a burden of expectations. There are certain Pacific 10, now Pac-12 conference teams that have performed well under great expectations.

Of course, the USC Trojans come to mind on more than one occasion, as well as the great Washington Husky squads of the early 90s under Don James, and even the UCLA Bruins‘ brief stint of optimism following the 1997 postseason Cotton Bowl victory, while contending for a national championship the following year.

Each team lived up to heightened expectations for their upcoming season, after triumphant previous seasons.

Arizona State is in a completely different scenario than a typical “rise to power” plot line.

The Sun Devils did not win a hotly contested bowl game, nor share the conference title crown with another program. Dennis Erickson’s squad was not permitted to play in a postseason bowl because ASU beat four, only four, bowl-subdivision teams.

Yet, ESPN, Fox Sports, and virtually every preseason magazine or online publication, has the Sun Devils in the top 25. Recently, this is a foreign territory for the Devils.

Playing as the favorite is normally reserved for early-season games vs. San Jose State, Louisiana-Monroe, Washington State and Nevada-Las Vegas, and the latter ASU managed to choke away in overtime.

Even just last fall, the Sun Devils hoped to come away with victories on the road at Wisconsin, against Oregon, and at the L.A. Coliseum vs. USC. That is hoped, not a “take it to the bank guarantee.”

After all, it has been a while since good old Sparky has been ranked. In fact, since the debacle that the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels laid on ASU in 2008, Erickson’s men have yet to sniff the polls.

But that was back then. Now, everyone is taking note of the Sun Devils, without a touchdown to be made, or a game to be decided.

Moreover, digital gaming kingpin Electronic Arts NCAA Football 12 rates ASU in the top 25. Credibility in the digital age matters, and the Sun Devils are accepting of the gracious “preseason honors.”

Fans in the desert can now play the game with their beloved Sun Devils as they always envisioned, an elite top 25 program.

The end result on the field is what counts, and the results last fall were encouraging, but still far from desirable. A 6-6 record is never ideal, especially when the previous two seasons ended with losing records.

Still, the aspirations of reaching a BCS bowl game emerge from the players. Before any plans are made for a Pac-12 championship game in the Valley of the Sun, fans must recognize that ASU still needs to learn how to win.

Sure, the Sun Devils ended the 2010 season in style with two wins against UCLA and hated rival Arizona, but those two contests are a small sample size of ASU’s success.

Those two wins were carried over through winter workouts and spring ball, and built a sense of confidence within the locker room. How much confidence is yet to be seen.

Playing with confidence helps, but if the players are thinking about all the kudos and preseason predictions on the field, another pedestrian performance will be scripted in 2011. Never has a team won a championship in a preseason magazine.

On the other hand, the desire to live up to expectations, and in a sense, prove the critics wrong is a motivating tactic. Long has Arizona State been considered a “sleeping giant” for more reasons than one, but has never sustained the fully-functioning, albeit frightening giant of the college football world. 

Sure, the Frank Kush days in Tempe were nothing but sunshine, conference titles, and beating the best from the Midwest every chance he got, but no one then knew what an iPod was, or ever would be, let alone an iPhone.

The times have changed, and so too has the philosophy at Arizona State. The old guard, or at the very least the old garb, has been tossed aside for a new style.

This fall, ASU will don new home and away uniforms, complete with a new helmet logo.

With the new uniforms, a new identity can be born. The past is the past, and will always be remembered. In the world of athletics, it is all about “what have you done for me lately?”

Lately, the Sun Devils have been all the talk. The only problem is, the score will not count until September. By then, all these preseason rankings and predictions will hold the weight of a penny.

Arizona State’s mentality in the 2011 season opener will be very telling. Sure, the opponent is only UC-Davis, but the Sun Devils should not worry about the opponent. After all, Sun Devil nation witnessed far too many games fumbled away by “user error” on the part of the maroon and gold.

The losses were not in dominating fashion, as the constant reminder of four losses by 10 points, and a fifth loss by 11 points to national runner-up Oregon, complete with seven Sun Devil giveaways.

The look might have changed at Arizona State, but that can only fool a few. The rankings certainly have respect for the Sun Devils, but has it been earned yet? No matter what, come Sept. 1, respect will be earned, not handed out.

Published on June 19, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

Head coaches and offensive coordinators can scheme and gameplan until they are blue in the face, but the success on gameday normally boils down to quarterback play. After all, only two players touch the ball on each offensive play—the quarterback and the center.

Before the play even starts, the Arizona State Sun Devils should feel confident. The first person to touch the ball on ASU’s first offensive play in the fall is a preseason 1st team All-Pac-12 center, Garth Gerhart.

As the anchor and elder statesman of the offensive line, Sun Devil fans finally feel at ease with the five-man group affectionately known as “hog mollies.” Perhaps returning all five starters from last fall, as well as four other game-tested reserves, lays a comfort blanket across the fan base, but chemistry is key in an offense, and the line is one unit with abundance.

With solid protection in front of Sun Devil quarterback, Brock Osweiler, time should not be a problem in 2011. Finding a target could be.

In 2010, 279-passes were completed by Steven Threet and Osweiler, including one to Garth Gerhart. However, 54 of those completions went to graduated receiver, Kerry Taylor. No longer will Taylor be in the repertoire of Osweiler’s receiving corps.

Even further, the Sun Devils’ second leading receiver from a season ago, T.J. Simpson,  is recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in spring drills. Simpson could return by November, but nothing is certain.

Although it is not June gloom in Arizona, only a select few are worried about the losses on the receiving end of pass patterns.

When key catches in clutch situations were needed, Mike Willie (6’4” 220 pounds) seemed to be there.

Other than Sun Devil running back Cameron Marshall, no other ASU player scored more touchdowns in 2010 than Willie’s eight touchdown grabs.

Erickson’s staff is not mulling other options at receiver to fill the voids of Taylor and Simpson, simply because of Willie’s potential to be a No. 1 receiver, and the Sun Devils already feel like they have an All-Pac-12 receiver on their roster.

Gerrell Robinson, a highly-touted recruit from Chandler, Arizona’s Hamilton High School, was initially projected as a program changing player in 2008, eerily similar to Vontaze Burfict’s future on the defensive side of the ball.

Needless to say, Robinson’s hype was short lived. As a freshman, Robinson totaled just three catches for 26 yards. During G-Rob’s sophomore season, the former play-making quarterback became a stranger to the end zone, catching a pedestrian 26 passes for 261 yards.

After battling numerous leg and ankle injuries for much of his early career, 2010 was poised to be breakout season for Robinson. For the first time in his Sun Devil career, Robinson found the end zone in Corvallis, OR, against the Beavers. His health was back, and a map to the end zone was no longer needed.

After getting that monkey off his back, Robinson exuded himself as a go-to target for Threet and Osweiler down the stretch. Robinson even scored twice on USC’s All-Conference cornerback, Nikell Robey at the Coliseum.

Many analysts say, “speed kills,” but size can be the deciding factor between a touchdown and an interception. Amazingly enough, ASU found the ultimate combination of size and speed at receiver.

With Robinson and Willie on the outside, ASU’s offense has two potent 6’4” 220-pound receivers that like to play physical. Not many cornerbacks in the conference are even 6’1”, so Osweiler will be looking early and often for the mismatches on his receivers.

Can anyone say, “Go-to receivers”?

But the Sun Devils don’t just have tall, sure-handed receivers on the inside. ASU boasts precise route runners and possession driven receivers Aaron Pflugrad and Jamal Miles in the slot.

Combined, both Miles and Pflugrad hauled in 54 passes for 532 yards and six touchdowns. Those totals are sure to rise in the second season under Noel Mazzone’s offensive system.

And perhaps the “X-Factor” for ASU’s offense is wide receiver George Bell. Entering last fall camp, Bell was thought to be a sure bet to start for the Sun Devils at wide receiver. Bell contributed early in the season, but was removed from the line-up after a case of the “dropsies” broke out. A trip to the sideline was the treatment Bell’s illness, instead of warm soup, and lots of fluids.

Maybe Bell had an issue translating his production from the junior college level to Rose Bowl competition each and every week. No longer will Bell be excused for his shortcomings at receiver; that time has passed.

Now, all the receivers play through the routes, not think about the routes, then perform. There is fluidity in the ASU offense. A new chemistry and understanding is evident, not just on the offensive line, but the entire offensive unit.

Defenses might win championships, but without a solid and consistently productive offense, the opportunity to take home a championship will be out of reach.

It will be up to the offense to take the Sun Devils to new heights in 2011.

Published on June 5, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”