NCAAFB

Week 1 in the Pac-12: Arizona State’s Mentality Against FCS Opponent UC Davis

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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Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler Understands Leadership Role Now More Than Ever

“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 andColin 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”

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Arizona State Football:  Removing the Under the Radar Tag in Tempe

Football fans within the Pac-12 Conference borders know the names Andrew LuckMatt BarkleyDarron 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 MarshallDeantre 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”

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Former Player Undresses the Current State of Sun Devil Football

Thumbing through the Arizona Republic this past week, the headline “ASU Coaches Named Staff of the Year” sparked some interest with many fans. Although, upon further review, the Sun Devil softball coaches were being honored following Arizona State’s 60-6 season, while securing the softball program’s second national championship in four seasons.

It would have been silly to think Dennis Erickson and his staff would receive an honor, especially after a 6-6 season. But many awards issued during the summer are simply talking points and hold no merit.

The football staff did not receive an award this past week. Instead, the entire Sun Devils athletic department was blindsided by a former player.

Former football standout and 2010 leading receiver Kerry Taylor volunteered his opinion on the state of Sun Devil football and the experiences during his four-year stint in Tempe.

Taylor gave a preview to Sunday’s AZ3 TV interview via a June 26 tweet: “I want ASU to win Pac-12 championships, all us ASU fans do. But in order for that to happen we need a new Head Coach. That’s all I’m saying.”

Granted, Kerry Taylor was recruited by former Sun Devil coach Dirk Koetter, but maintained his verbal commitment to the ASU football program. Although Koetter was not the coach, Taylor saw action in all 13 of ASU’s games en route to a Pac-10 championship under then-first-year head coach Dennis Erickson.

Throughout Taylor’s entire career in the maroon and gold, he was neither the scapegoat nor the star. Taylor is certainly accustomed to stardom, coming from a pedigree of NFL greatness. Kerry’s father, Keith Taylor, and uncle, John Taylor, both had extensive careers on the ultimate level of the game.

To date, Kerry Taylor is still hoping for a shot at the NFL, or an auxiliary football forum. After totaling 111 catches for 1,416 yards and seven touchdowns, his statistics did not overwhelm scouts, and his game film followed suit.

After all, Taylor never separated himself from the rest of the pack in college, why would scouts believe he would blossom at the highest level of competition?

Before Taylor’s senior season in Tempe, he only had two games in which he hauled in five or more passes. And prior to his “contract year,” Taylor never eclipsed the century mark for receiving yards.

At one point during the TV interview, Taylor made light of Erickson’s abilities to form a staff, mentioning that the coach is “helping out [Erickson’s] buddies.”

“We all know this is Erickson’s last stint in coaching. He is just trying to get some of his buddies one last paycheck,” he said.

Maybe Taylor does not understand how staff chemistry impacts the job, success and planning of an entire football program. Sure, Erickson hired “buddies,” but for the most part, these were the same assistants that have toed the line with Erickson since his coaching days in the Northwest and at the University of Miami.

Certainly, Taylor is aware of Erickson’s accolades and historical success, Erickson sports one of his two championship rings with regularity, both in the football facility and on the field.

One of the biggest blunders of Erickson’s tenure might have been the drawn out allegiance to former offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, Rich Olson. Fans that believed 2007’s success would breed new life into the Sun Devil program were sorely mistaken.

The system under Olson never meshed with the offensive roster, including Taylor.

Olson’s vanilla offense, lack of excitement inside the stadium, and lack of success on the scoreboard ultimately ended the Olson saga in Tempe. Olson was not the only faulty piece in ASU’s “Championship Puzzle.” ASU was also in the midst of juggling quarterbacks to replace Rudy Carpenter, who started 43 games as a Sun Devil.

Sure, Olson and Erickson had to find a suitable replacement at the most pivotal position, but if there is no viable solution, where do you turn?

Rightfully so, Erickson rebuilt the defense with astute and energetic defensive coordinator Craig Bray. Yes, Bray is a longtime “buddy” of Erickson, but he is a master of his craft.  Taylor failed to mention Craig Bray’s son, current linebackers coach, Trent Bray, as hires that flaunt Erickson’s nepotism.

Then again, Trent Bray was a ferocious linebacker at Oregon State in his own right. Bray’s honors in Corvallis extended much like a grocery list, rather than a player’s bio.

In Kerry Taylor’s case, Erickson had a former “buddy” coach the Chandler Hamilton standout for all four seasons.

Eric Yarber, former ASU wide receivers coach, was discovered at Los Angeles Valley College by Dennis Erickson in 1983. The former Crenshaw High School star signed his national letter of intent to play for the Idaho Vandals and Erickson later that year.

Yarber then had a brief stint in the NFL with the Washington Redskins as a return specialist. Yes, Yarber was a friend, but his coaching credentials were second to none.

If Taylor objects to that, he can call the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and ask how their new wide receivers coach is holding up. 

Erickson’s son, Bryce, even received some backlash from Taylor. Taylor specifically mentioned both Bryce Erickson and Jamie Christian, Erickson’s son-in-law, while exploring perceived nepotism by Erickson.

Bryce had coaching experience before he arrived in Tempe, as did Jamie Christian. Both coaches have even flourished in their roles. Bryce has upgraded recruiting locally, as well as mentoring two running backs to rush for over 500 yards each.

Christian has spearheaded the special teams game, which had a couple hick-ups, but more highlight reel touchdown plays than gaffes. Take a look at any number of the long-distance kick returns Christian’s unit returned last fall.

Taylor obviously feels slighted, in some shape or fashion. At this moment, Taylor is not in the NFL. Any athlete who signs a letter of intent for a football program has aspirations of making it to the league. Taylor did not reach that goal, yet.

Taylor is doing his best to steer his brother into the best possible path to reach that same goal, but it will not be at Arizona State.

The entire interview was not supposed to be about Kerry or ASU, but his younger brother’s recruitment. Kerry’s younger brother Kendyl, pledged to play for the University of Washington under Steve Sarkisian, not the local Sun Devils.

Erickson extended an offer to Kendyl Taylor, but the recruiting for Taylor was done in-house.

By the end of Kerry Taylor’s rant, it was clear his Sun Devil career was a sham, at least at this very moment.

Last November, Taylor reflected on his ASU career prior to his final game, but no signs of disgust or frustration lingered. “I don’t regret anything that happened at ASU,” Taylor told Devils Digest. “Everything happens for a reason, so I’m glad I got to play even though a couple of the years haven’t been as good as I would have liked. I’m still glad that it happened.”

Erickson and Taylor both reminisced about potentially redshirting the wide receiver in 2007.

“He is really developed,” Erickson said. “You look at him now and you almost regret not redshirting him but at that time we didn’t have very much depth and one thing about Kerry is that he was a very polished receiver coming out of high school.”

“Looking back at it now (Nov. 2010), redshirting would have been great but I’m still glad that I didn’t,” Taylor said. “I still got the opportunity to play in every game my freshman year, learned a lot and had a great experience. I think it was a good stepping stone into my sophomore year.”

And indeed it was a good move at the time, for both Taylor and the program. Now, the feelings have changed quite a bit.

Now, Taylor believes that ASU will not win a Pac-12 championship with Erickson as the head coach. Whether it is because of the “buddy system” taking over the football staff, unsupported mentions of recruiting letdowns on the local front, or the treatment of players while in the football program, Taylor has voiced his displeasure.

It is easy to see the frustration through three-straight non-winning seasons, especially, now, that Erickson’s 2011 squad is on the brink of competing for the inaugural Pac-12 championship, without Taylor.

This all could be a case of sour grapes, or as the season unfolds, perhaps Taylor’s bashing will hold merit?

Only time will tell.

Published July 6, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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NCAAFB: Allegations Boil for Oregon, Door Opens for Pac-12 Rivals

The Oregon Ducks are reigning Pac-10 Champions, and favorites to take home the inaugural Pac-12 Conference crown by many media publications. Off the field, their offseason has been more reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon, than a finely tuned football program.

Recruiting infractions have been alleged through multiple reports since 2011 commenced. Now, the water for Duck Soup begins to boil as more reports and stories break, potentially tarnishing Oregon’s success under coach Chip Kelly.

Willie Lyles, the owner of the “bogus Complete Scouting Services,” according to Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports, has thrown Oregon’s football program under the bus.

Before Lyles drove over the Ducks, he accepted a $25,000 payment Oregon authorized in February of 2010.

Kelly, LaMichael James—a favorite to take home this year’s Heisman Trophy—and a redshirt freshman yet to take a snap in Eugene, Lache Seastrunk, are the main points of emphasis for the NCAA, aside from Lyles.

Yahoo Sports later revealed the allegations in a March 3rd report, and things have only gotten worse.

John Canzano, Ducks’ beat writer for The Oregonian, summed up Oregon’s issues on JT The Brick’s Fox Sports radio show.

“The documents are all there,” Canzano said. “The phone records, the emails, the hand-written letters from Kelly to Lyles.”

Sounds awfully like a recent NCAA investigation in Columbus, OH. Once the writing was clearly bolded on the walls, fan favorite and Buckeye legend—now for more reasons than one—Jim Tressel resigned this past Memorial Day.

It is unclear how soon, or if, the NCAA imposes sanctions, scholarship reductions or even loss of bowl eligibility for the Ducks, as in the case with the USC Trojans.

Oregon has been perceived to be a leg up on USC since Pete Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks job, and then the subsequent hammer the NCAA infractions committee dropped on Troy.

As Canzano said, “This is problematic for Oregon because they wrote Lyles a $25,000 check, then made [Lyles] look like a scouting service, going as far as including paperwork with a now deceased player.”

None of that sounds good for the “Quack Attack.”

Coaches across the conference will sure use these allegations, and potential recruiting violations as fuel on the recruiting trail.

Oregon’s focus will somehow have to remain fully entrenched in remaining a BCS National Championship contender. How Chip Kelly manages that, is still yet to be seen.

If these distractions are clear as day on Saturday’s, then the Pac-12 will be in for one intense fight for the title in its inception season.

With Kelly and the Ducks under fire, the door is open for Stanford and their own Heisman Trophy candidate, Andrew Luck, to wear the crown as the conference’s elite. Under first-year head coach David Shaw, the Cardinal would be everyone’s next squad in line to represent the Pac-12 North in the conference championship game.

In the South, the opportunity for Utah to burst onto the automatic-qualifying conference stage would be even more satisfying with an appearance in the conference championship game, as a shot to go to the Rose Bowl weighs in the balance.

With a healthy Jordan Wynn at quarterback, and the infamous Norm Chow calling plays, nothing is out of reach for the Utes.

Even the Arizona State Sun Devils could force their way into a BCS bowl appearance as smoke—potentially—turns to fire “Deep in the Woods.” The Sun Devils have been a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 South, and face off against the Ducks with BCS implications on the line.

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach tabbed ASU at No. 23 in his “Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2011 Poll.” Perhaps his title speaks for itself; it is way too early to predict national champions.

Heck, a game hasn’t even been played yet, and one coach has already resigned under intense scrutiny. Now, Oregon is the latest program being hunted by the NCAA. The Ducks remain firm they committed “no wrong doing.”

“Chip Kelly is a guy who likes to get out front and talk a lot,” Canzano expressed. “He has been silent on this one.”

Silence will eventually turn into chaos, both for the Ducks and the Pac-12 title race.

Published on July 5, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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ASU Football: Sun Devil Mentality Amid All the Preseason Hype

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”

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Pac-12: The “Conference of Champions” Goes Coast to Coast

To say that the Pac-10 has transformed under commissioner Larry Scott’s tenure would be an immense understatement. Commanding the post at the “Conference of Champions” for merely 18 months, Scott has performed the ultimate makeover.

A new, progressive logo ushered in a new era for the conference, as expansion talks grabbed headlines last spring. Colorado and Utah joined the new Pac-12, as Texas and Oklahoma opted to remain in the Big 12—now with only 10 teams.

Colorado and Utah do not carry the same cache as the Longhorns and Sooners, but Scott attracted the 17th- and 32nd-largest media markets to his newly expanded conference.

With the additions of the Denver and Salt Lake City media markets, the Pac-12 has 10 schools represented in the top 32 largest media markets in the nation.

Although Tucson, AZ and Pullman, WA, are not in the top 50, both the relatively close Phoenix and Seattle-Tacoma, WA, markets rank 12th and 13th, respectively.

With more viewers being exposed to Larry Scott’s product, a new outlet was necessary.

The days of searching endlessly for your favorite school or much of the Pac-10’s athletic content are over, and never to be experienced again.

As the Pac-10 tallied up championships on multiple playing surfaces, their product has been greatly undervalued in the past.

It was a rare occurrence to see a Pac-10 game on ESPN until just recently. The days of Fox Sports regional coverage are a thing of the past.

Incredibly, after all of the decisions, advancements and expansion into the new Pac-12, Scott might have reeled in the largest trophy fish of any commissioner in college athletics.

Although a statement of great magnitude such as that needs sufficient evidence.

However, the details of the Pac-12 Conference’s media contract are nearly unbelievable.

Commissioner Scott partnered with media kingpins ESPN/Disney and Fox to cut a deal worth $3 billion over 12 years, according to the New York Times, eclipsing previously deals with the Southeastern Conference ($2.25 billion) and Big Ten ($2.8 billion).

Within moments of the announcement, athletic department officials erupted into unbridled jubilation. Champions were not crowned, but the playing field leveled out.

As the ink dries on this lucrative deal with ESPN and Fox, beginning in 2012 the Pac-12 will no longer unevenly split the $45 million revenue under the previous TV deal in the Pac-10, with the two Los Angeles schools receiving a heavy helping of the pie.

Now, it appears each school will get its slice of the pie, worth roughly $21 million annually.

It is pretty easy to understand why school officials are toasting the commish: New deal, larger audience, new Pac-12 Network set to launch in August of 2012 and all the dollar signs.

Although the theory of “extra money” has been thrown around, many of the schools not named USC or Oregon are “financially challenged” and operating in the red.

Once the clock starts ticking on this deal, many departments will have their own expansion plans in place on campus. This money will affect both revenue-generating sports and the Olympic sports.

Facilities across the conference will undergo face lifts and renovations and catch up to the state-of-the-art athletic facilities in SEC and Big Ten.

Expansion for the conference has been covered nationally, and now fans will be able to watch the Pac-12 Conference on network television across the entire country.

No longer will a historic Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State be viewed by the few thousand in attendance, even if their records are a combined 1-21.

Alumni across the country can take comfort in a commissioner who signs a multi-billion dollar, multi-year contract for the betterment of the sport.

Larry Scott thought of the universities, their fans and the best interest of the game while making these ever-changing progressive decisions.

Published on May 5, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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New Digs at ASU: Look Good. Feel Good. Play Good. It’s Time…For Change

It is tough to argue with the rhyme and reason voiced by NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice. The NFL’s all-time leader in touchdowns stated his philosophy, “You look good. You play good. That’s the bottom line. But that’s in any walk of life, really.”

Arizona State University’s athletic department is prepared to follow suit.

On April 9th (Sun Devil Club event) and April 12th (Media and Public release), ASU is prepared to unveil a complete overhaul to the Sun Devils’ brand; including logo modifications, re-tooling the uniforms and continuing upgrades to the facilities, as well as Sun Devil Stadium.

First signs of ASU “change” occurred simultaneously as Dennis Erickson announced his 2011 recruiting class. Maroon marketing cards were displayed with a gold pitchfork and the date: April 12, 2011.

No details. No specifics.

Then, the ASU athletic department took to social media and increased the predictive banter.

Three weeks ago, ASU athletics posted a video on YouTube titled, “It’s Time…To Celebrate Our Past.” With the ceremonies rapidly approaching, more and more videos were posted.

Over the weekend, Sun Devil fans were greeted with ASU’s latest teaser video, “It’s Time. April 12, 2011.”

“Don’t fear change, just the Sun Devils,” was the final narration.

For years, uniform talk, color schemes and logo placement has run ramped on ASU message boards, along with an abundance of colorful language.

Much of the disgust stems from the potential removal of the Sun Devils beloved mascot and athletics logo Sparky. Yet, the athletic department remains firm about Sparky remaining prominent. However, it is clear that opponents will learn to “Fear the Fork.”

Subtle changes over the years came and went in a flash, including stints with all white uniforms, all maroon uniforms and one lone defeat at the hands of the Arizona Wildcats in head to toe gold jerseys.

Still, change affects people in different ways. Some are open to growth and willing to accept change as a positive. Others believe in tradition, keeping with the routine and remaining stagnant.

In the world of college athletics, words like stagnant, stale or dull should never characterize your athletic program.

Arizona State is taking the initiative and forming a progressive movement within the sports world. Although, many might consider a logo change or jersey modification a great business move in a suffering economy, the Sun Devils expect these changes to be far-reaching on multiple platforms.

After all, college football is the kingpin of intercollegiate athletics. With that, the Sun Devils do expect change in 2011, especially on the gridiron.

Just as the conference went through change in 1978 with the addition of ASU and Arizona, the Sun Devils will usher in change alongside the revamped Pac-12, once again.

Now in the inaugural season of the Pac-12 conference, the Sun Devil football team will explode out of the gates with a new look, too.

Whether the colors of emphasis are gold, maroon, black or white or the decal on the helmet has a new, 21st century Sparky,  a pitchfork, uniform numbers or the throwback “sunburst” logo, the buzz surrounding ASU athletics will inflate dramatically by opening kickoff on September 1st.

The results thereafter will determine how much progress ASU athletics will make.

If the players look good and feel good in their new threads, the results will come, or so, Mr. Rice says.

With preseason optimism heightened in anticipation of a breakthrough year for football, a new set of uniforms and an entire athletic department overhaul can only help to attract future recruits, while expanding the fanbase.

Seventeen and 18-year-old high school athletes love new gear or “swag.” The infatuation with new uniforms, with black incorporated, is nothing new, but today’s youth salivate over unveiling ceremonies in this fashion.

However, new uniforms alone will not hang championship banners or win football games, and that is what ASU is looking to progress towards. Change is the first step towards that goal.

Although, change does not have a timetable, only a launching point.

By this time next week, the “new look” Arizona State Sun Devils will be fully equipped with fresh Nike uniforms, a new logo, a new plan, and a new image to attract millions of new supporters and family members to the ASU community.

Yet, one has to wonder; if the players like it, will the fans admire the changes, as well?

Published on April 6, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports”

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ASU Football: Has the Rebuilding Process Come Full Circle in Tempe?

This spring in Tempe, Arizona, a different tune is echoing from the buttes. No longer is there the sound of rebuilding.

Spring football is two weeks away and the Sun Devils are ready to arrive on the national radar in college football.

Since the inception of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998, Arizona State has never been featured in any of the four bowl games. In the Pacific Ten Conference, and moving forward, the Pac-12, the Rose Bowl is always at the top of the pecking order.

The Sun Devils last appeared in the Rose Bowl in 1997, following the ’96 season. Two Holiday Bowl appearances in San Diego and a few road games against the UCLA Bruins were the closest ASU came to returning to the “Granddaddy of Them All.”

But don’t listen to me, take it from the head coach’s mouth. “What’s exciting to me, finally, is after four years we’re worthy. I thought last year we were really close, now I feel like we’re here.”

Of course, Erickson added a disclaimer, “Now we’ve got to do it on the field.”

There is no doubt that this year appears to be completely different than the past three-bowl-less seasons.

First of all, there is no question mark at quarterback. Brock Osweiler is the leader of the Sun Devil offense, and the maroon and gold’s leader off the bus each weekend.

Better yet, Osweiler knows he is the man at quarterback.

There is no need to look over his 6’8” shoulders for lingering competition, which in Tempe is very, very rare. Osweiler has witnessed the unraveling of quarterbacks firsthand throughout his career.

The first hand experience as a backup, making his first start at Autzen Stadium, only to get knocked out of the game, and late last season winning two games in comeback fashion, shows tremendous growth as a leader. 

Rallying the troops late against the Arizona Wildcats in December has brought momentum into spring workouts, conditioning, and will now carry over to the spring practices.

This spring, the Sun Devil coaches will replace five starting players from last year’s squad.

Perhaps, the biggest question mark in the spring is the defensive line, as both Sai’a Falahola and Lawrence Guy look to be playing on Sundays in the NFL.

The defensive line will have the most question marks, but the depth Erickson has is plentiful. Everyone who doubted Erickson’s success on the recruiting trail recently will be pleasantly surprised by the depth ASU has at their disposal.

Not only do both rotation tackles return in Corey Adams and Bo Moos, but also Will Sutton returns from academic probation. Sutton was a force on the defensive line as a freshman in 2009, and a year away from the game can only add fuel to his burning fire.

The safety spots are another area of uncertainty in spring. Both Eddie Elder and Keelan Johnson will be held out of spring practice with injuries lingering from last season.

With both safeties sidelined, this gives Erickson’s staff time to continue developing the younger talent, and evaluate a pecking order once fall camp rolls around, and injuries are completely healed.

While a 6-6 team might appear to have plenty of holes to fill on their roster, Erickson is faithful that his players can get the job.

Offensively, all five starting offensive linemen return for the first time in a decade. That, in its’ self is a huge feather in Erickson’s hat. Confidence in a football team, and an offense starts at the foundation. No matter what style of offense a team runs, the offensive line either makes, or breaks a game, or the season.

Last fall, when the offensive line was in sync, the Sun Devils punished at will. When there were holes in the protection, the quarterbacks were raddled, and turnovers persisted.

Consistency is the key to any successful football team. Last season, and the two prior, the Sun Devils were inconsistent. Now, the team is stable, with competition brewing. It is time to iron out the wrinkles, and focus on being the conference champions on the practice field.

After all, Erickson said, “Now we’ve go to do it on the field.”

Obviously, that is easier said than done, but the practice field is a good place to start. If Erickson’s squad continues to grow and progress from the momentum of two-straight wins to end the season, maybe this year’s team will, in fact, live up to expectations.

The growth of Arizona State’s football program is hinging on this upcoming season. After three-straight bowl-less seasons, another could set the maroon and gold back to the dark ages, but nobody is counting on that.

The players on the roster, that Erickson recruited, are too good. The depth behind them is profound, as well.

All arrows point towards a successful 2011, especially behind an upperclassmen-laden maroon and gold squad.

Erickson said it best, “We’re finally at a place, where if we have the success we think we’re going to have next year, that we can plug guys in the year after that and the year after that and the year after that. And we know what we need and what we can plug in to be really, really good.”

Sun Devil fans want to be good right now. And right now was three years ago. With so many upperclassmen and returning freshmen and sophomores who earned playing time, the Sun Devils are poised for a breakthrough season.

Even ESPN has jumped on the Sun Devils’ bandwagon. Erickson’s 6-6 squad cracked Mark Schlabach’s “Way-Too-Early 2011 Top-25,” and landed at No. 21.

ASU did finish strong, and lost four games by a combined nine points last season, so maybe that counts for something.

Hopefully, there are far less games decided by an extra point, or a field goal, because that is the one area the Sun Devils are, in fact, rebuilding.

Published on March 7, 2011

“Kris Francis On Sports” 

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ASU FOOTBALL: Burfict Speaks About a New Image and The National Championsip

For the first time since Vontaze Burfict arrived in Tempe, the consensus All-American linebacker had a one-on-one interview. In the past, a silent arrogance preceded personal foul flags. Now, a newfound soon-to-be junior looks to leave all of that nonsense in the past.

“Burfict said, “I don’t regret anything to tell you the truth. It’s all behind me. I’m just looking forward to next year and trying to get this national championship. I don’t really care about last year now.”

Quite a bold statement Burfict made to the Arizona Republic’s Doug Haller.

With aspirations of that magnitude following a 6-6 season, fans now know that they are not the only ones imagining a dream season in 2011. With the [penalties] all behind Burfict, fans at Sun Devil Stadium will want to be eyewitnesses to the fact.

And you better believe that the zebras will want significant proof of that as well.

However, the season is still more than six months away, even though fans are already clamoring for spring practice, just to get their first glimpse of what to expect once the score counts.

Although, ASU seems like a surprise pick for preseason top 25 consideration, especially after a season that consisted of only four wins against Bowl Subdivision teams, but Burfict admits to “wanting to change the program.”

First step in changing a program is winning football games. Aspirations and dreams of optimal success is great banter and media friendly, but stepping on the field each Saturday and proving that sentiment each play is entirely different.

Yet that is exactly what this Sun Devil team is, they are different. This is not everyone’s ideal football team.

After last season’s rollercoaster finish against UCLA and in-state rival Arizona, fans fell in love with a 6’8”, 245 pound quarterback. Point to one other team that can boast that same distinction.

Most fans in the “valley of the sun” brought up the glaring weaknesses in the past, mainly the offensive line, but last season the critics subsided as tight ends and first year linemen were converted and inserted into the most pivotal tackle positions. Yet worrisome, would not describe these five hardhat workers.

Of course, the never-ending hymn of players from out-of-state populating the majority of the roster has long been voiced against Erickson.  Sure, homegrown talent looks great in maroon and gold, but Burfict, Omar Bolden, and Will Sutton look to get the job done in style this fall.

Burfict eluted to that fact saying, “We have the pieces. Me and Omar Bolden, we’re the defensive leaders, and we’re trying to change the defense around, trying to disguise more.”

To some, “trying to change” a defense that ranked 16th in the country, and first in the conference against the run, doesn’t need much adjusting. However, any improvements in schemes with the athleticism, strength, and overall talent that Burfict and his teammates possess, can only move ASU closer to their Bowl Championship Series goals.

After losing Lawrence Guy to the NFL Draft, the initial perception was that the defense would take a hit, especially in the run game. Just don’t tell that to Burfict.

“I’m not concerned at all because we have my high school teammate, Will Sutton, and not to say he’s better than Lawrence, but he has very good potential.”

Potential is good, but Lawrence Guy is looking forward to a successful career in “The League”. As everyone knows, only the best of the best get to that level. Perhaps, only “beasts” at their position get to the next level.

In reference to Will Sutton, Burfict said, “He’s a beast. To be 300 pounds, he can move and run down a quarterback. He’s ready. I think he’s going to be a huge factor next year.”

It is clear that goals are set high in Tempe. Fans, players, coaches, and everyone alike are yearning for the taste of greatness. Even during ASU’s most recent success, many believed their 2007 co-Pacific Ten Championship  with USC was all for not, as the Texas Longhorns reminded the Sun Devils, who the boss was.

For the better part of the last season, Burfict spent his time showing the opposition who’s the boss. Perhaps sometimes even crossing the proverbial line.

There is no doubt that the recruit who was initially compared to Ray Lewis, will one day play on the same field as the future hall of famer, but Burfict’s quest for a new image is his focus.

“I play real aggressive. I just have a real passion for the game, and sometimes it gets ahold of me.”

After last season, the only obstacle between ASU and a bowl berth were mental errors and overzealous penalties. Even Vontaze himself admitted as such.

“Just avoiding the flags. That’s pretty much it. That’s the only thing that’s stopping me.”

With that being said, Erickson and the Sun Devils appear primed for their big stage performance. After all, we all knew this day would come soon.

When Erickson was hired in 2006, the ASU football program received a facelift. From the moment that Omar Bolden tossed aside a USC Trojans hat on live television, in favor of slipping on a maroon ASU hat, changing an image was the mindset.

Then, one year later, Vontaze Burfict spurned the hometown Trojans to piggyback on Bolden’s performance the year prior. Everyone knew the expectations in place, with this trio as leaders.  It was only a matter of time before the offense was seen as equals to the Sun Devil’s defensive stalwarts.

Now, Burfict is another year older, with more maturity, and a new image in sight. The only remaining to do is explode onto the scene in 2011, and win in style.

The only thing left to do is explode [back] onto the scene in 2011, and win in style. And Burfict plans to do just that.

“The way I’m going to come out next year is going to be crazy!”

Without the flags, crazy is definitely good.

Hopefully, the new image will be too.

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