Hopes Rising for Cardinals, Sun Devils
The Valley Representatives Of The Pac-12 And NFL Have Sights Set On Division Titles
By Bob Goodwood
Special for Modern Times Magazine
Sept. 7, 2011 — After the hype of last season, if fans of the Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State Sun Devils were hesitant to jump on the band wagon, no one would blame them. After all, both teams had chances to accomplish something and couldn’t get it done.
Fans were disappointed, to say the least, but not disheartened.
As the NFL’s labor woes postponed optimism for Cardinals fans, ASU was quietly working away, shoring up a decent recruiting class and unveiling new uniforms. But as soon as the NFL got their labor act together, the Cardinals pounced, signing a plethora of established guys (see Kevin Kolb and Todd Heap) as well as some guys who are seemingly still under the radar (See Chansi Stuckey).
Now on the cusp of fall, the Valley might be close to witnessing two special teams chasing championships. Many battles lie between these two squads and their ultimate goals of winning it all, but for the first time since the Cardinals arrived in 1988, the Valley has a chance to witness two historic runs.
The Arizona Cardinals
If the 2010 season taught the Arizona Cardinals anything, it was that Derrick Anderson was not the quarterback of the future. Smartly, item No. 1 on the off-season checklist was a quarterbacks and the Cardinals wasted little time in making the trade of Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and a second round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Kevin Kolb.
Kolb did what a guy that just signed a $60 million contract should do in the preseason — he was good. Over the four games that don’t count, Kolb has a passer rating of 93 with no interceptions. But he also only has one touchdown and only 40 pass attempts.
But he is miles ahead of Derrick Anderson and the Cardinals look like they have their ship in order. The rest of the offense is seemingly humming and should be a highly effective force. New lineman has filled the shoes of Alan Faneca. Todd Heap gives another target and will be especially handy in third-and-long and red-zone situations.
The biggest hole on the offensive side of the ball might be at running back, where Ryan Williams’ promise exploded with his patella tendon in Green Bay. The one bugaboo about him coming out of college was his ability to handle NFL hits and unfortunately, the answer to that question so far is no.
On the defensive side, the squad is setting itself up as either a dominant force or a scapegoat for a losing season. The loss of Adrian Wilson in the preseason was a major blow, but he is hoping he will be allowed to suit up for game one, although no one really knows if he can be effective playing with a torn biceps tendon. The big question mark for the defense has been if they can put adequate pressure on the quarterback and they have not made any big moves to get an established pass rusher. They are instead depending on development of a few internal candidates like O’Brien Schofield.
But overall, the wrinkles and play calling of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton has been great. When coordinating a defense schemes come and go, but it is knowing when and how to implement them that makes the difference. So far, Horton is seemingly pushing the right buttons and the defense look hungry and engaged.
With the NFC West looking wide open — as it always does before any games are played — the Cardinals definitely have a chance at the playoffs where anything can happen.
Arizona State University Sun Devils
The close and blow-out losses in 2010 were tremendously painful. A new offensive game plan a quarterback that suffered on too many shots to the head was saved at the end of the year by a Territorial Cup victory that saved the flavor of the season and revealed a glimmer of something special in then-sophomore Brock Osweiler.
The recruiting class was solid and the buzz surrounding the unveiling of the new logo and uniforms has definitely helped to energize a team that returns 18 starters and has 30 seniors. Most importantly, four of those returning starters are along the offensive line. If skill guys like Osweiler, Cameron Marshall, Jamal Miles, Gerell Robinson, T.J. Simpson and others can get opportunities provided to them by the linemen, points might be easy to come by. Erickson finally has a team of tough and fast players that he likes.
The defense promises to be dominant as long as the loss of cornerback Omar Bolden can be replaced by Osahon Irabor and Deveron Carr. Vontaze Burfict looked dominant against UC Davis and he can make this defense one of the best in the country. Add to that the expected dominance of Willie Sutton and the sky is the limit for the ASU defense.
They will be tested early and that might not be a bad thing. The No. 21 Missouri Tigers are the first test this Friday night. The battle in a sweltering Sun Devil Stadium undoubtedly provides a homefield advantage for the Sun Devils. Then, after travelling to Illinois for game No. 2, they host USC at home in an early season battle against the men of Troy.
The first Pac-12 schedule also adds one regular season game after the Territorial Cup battle against the Arizona Wildcats. The Sun Devils will face Cal at home Nov. 25 and if they win the Pac-12 South, they will play in the first conference championship game Dec. 2.
Bob Goodwood is a freelance writer currently living in Scottsdale, Ariz.