Sun Devils rested and ready for rest of season

Sun Devils rested and ready for rest of season

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Arizona State coach Todd Graham pointed to his team's games against Utah and California as critical points of the season, measuring sticks to see how far it might able to go.

The Sun Devils got through both with victories and find themselves atop the Pac-12 South, the preseason goal of a Pac-12 championship within reach.

The next step will be to build off those successes.

Rested and rejuvenated after its bye week, Arizona State faces a crucial road game against Colorado on Thursday night before closing with five teams that are or were previously ranked.

Stay focused or the Sun Devils could end up with another disappointing stagger to the finish like they had last season.

``I said this early in the year: I think coming back from adversity is hard, but handling success is harder,'' Graham said Monday. ``You have to stay hungry, you have to stay focused on what you're doing, stay motivated on the opponent that's right in front of you.''

The Sun Devils have done a good job staying on task so far.

Playing with the discipline and pace Graham has preached since the day he arrived in the desert, Arizona State has been one of college football's mild surprises this season.

Former coach Dennis Erickson did a good job recruiting before he left, so the cupboard wasn't completely empty when Graham arrived, but few outside the program expected the Sun Devils to be this good under a new coach and a new system.

Arizona State enters the Colorado game at 4-1 and could have been undefeated if a comeback against Missouri hadn't come up just short. The Sun Devils also are 2-0 in the Pac-12 after knocking off Utah at home and California on the road, putting them a game ahead of No. 11 Southern California in the South Division.

They've done it by playing well on both sides of the ball.

Arizona State has been solid on offense, second in the Pac-12 with 38.4 points per game. Taylor Kelly, the somewhat-surprising winner of a three-way quarterback battle heading into the season, has been a dynamic force running Graham's up-tempo offense, leading the conference in passing efficiency at 166.34 while extending plays with his athleticism and poise under pressure.

Arizona State's defense has been superb despite a lack of depth in the secondary, leading the Pac-12 in numerous categories, including scoring (13.6 points), total defense (276.2 yards) and tackles for loss (9.8 per game).

It has, by almost all accounts, been a successful start to Graham's tenure at Arizona State.

``To this point, what we've talked to our guys about is that we've played five ball games,'' Graham said. ``We beat four teams we should have beat and we lost to a team we should have beat. So it's all about preparation and bottom line, you better go into every game and understand that.''

That resolve will be needed this week.

Colorado got its second season under coach Jon Embree off to a disappointing start, opening with three straight losses: to rival Colorado State, Sacramento State of the FCS and a 69-14 blowout by Fresno State. The Buffaloes pulled out a shootout victory over Washington State on Sept. 22, but were run over by UCLA the next week.

Well-rested and relatively healthy after its bye week, Arizona State is a heavy favorite to beat Colorado, opening as a more than a two-touchdown favorite.

The key will be to not look ahead.

After playing the Buffaloes, the Sun Devils get No. 2 Oregon in another Thursday night game at home. Then comes UCLA, which has been in and out of the polls, followed by road games against 10th-ranked Oregon State and USC. Arizona State gets a little break in the schedule against Washington State on Nov. 27, then closes the season against Arizona, a rivalry game where anything can and often does happen.

Considering the Sun Devils lost six of their final seven games last season after a 5-1 start, this week's game is one they can't afford to overlook.

``When we play together as a team, we've got a pretty good football team,'' Graham said. ``That's the hardest thing about my job, is keeping 18- to 22-year-olds focused on something.''

Keep doing it and the Sun Devils can keep rolling, maybe into the Pac-12 championship game or even the Rose Bowl.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....


Capitals Faceoff Podcast: What happens in Vegas....

It's almost here.

After a lengthy break between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Finals, the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights are set to meet on Monday for Game 1.

Who will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup?

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir give their keys to the series and their predictions for the Stanley Cup Final. Plus, JJ speaks with several member from the local media to get their insights and predictions.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

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Need to Know: A look at the Redskins' key 2019 free agents

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, May 27, 16 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Here is my sunrise view from this morning:

Looking at next year’s free agents

This post was originally published on March 18. 

There is still work that the Redskins can do in free agency and they still have some of their own players they want to retain. But with a lot of the player movement already in the books, we can take a look forward some of the key Redskin who currently are set to be free agents when the 2019 league year opens. 

QB Colt McCoy (Week 1 age 32)—Lots of questions here. Will the Redskins want to keep him around for another year as Alex Smith’s backup? Or will they want a younger and cheaper backup? Will McCoy want to move on rather than back up another QB who doesn’t miss many games?

OL Ty Nsekhe (32)—The Redskins gave him a second-round restricted free agent tender this year so it’s possible that he could be gone or on a long-term contract in Washington. If he is a free agent, his value and the difficulty of retaining him could depend on if he ends the season as a reserve tackle (easy) or as a starting guard (hard). 

OLB Preston Smith (25)—As we saw with Trent Murphy (three years, $21 million with up to $30 million), pass rushers get paid. Smith also makes big plays. Since Smith came into the NFL, he is the only player with at least 20 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. If the Redskins can’t reach a deal on an extension with him this year the franchise tag is a distinct possibility. 

WR Jamison Crowder (25)—This year the supply of quality receivers both as free agents and in the draft sent contract prices skyrocketing. To guard against that happening next year, the Redskin should start talking to Crowder about an extension soon. 

ILB Zach Vigil (27)—As I noted here, Vigil went from being cut in September to a very valuable reserve in November. Both Zach Brown and Mason Foster will still be under contract, but the Redskin still should make an effort to retain Vigil for special teams and as a capable backup. 

Other Redskins who are slated to be UFA’s next year are DL Ziggy Hood and ILB Martrell Spaight. 

It’s also worth noting that WR Maurice Harris and DE Anthony Lanier will both be restricted free agents next year. Both positions were pricey in free agency this year, so both could require at least second-round tenders, which likely will increase to about $3 million in 2019. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler