As November gets underway, most people’s thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and the joy of gathering family together to begin the celebration of a new holiday season.
Todd Graham, too, values family and looks forward to those times together. But November also has a dark side for the Arizona State head football coach. Last year ushered in his second straight losing season, and November was the month that was supposed to stop a three-game skid. Instead, the Sun Devils went 0-3 in the 11th month to finish out the schedule with six straight losses to cap a disappointing 5-7 record.
This time, the Devils are 4-4 coming into the month, which means Graham needs to win three out of the last four games to post a winning season and maybe get a bowl bid.
That makes this month one of the most critical of Graham’s coaching career. Even if the Devils run the table, it may not be enough to save his job.
On the plus side, each of the final four games are very winnable. But on the down side, there is no opportunity left to pull off a big upset over a highly-ranked team. That has already happened when ASU beat then-No. 4 Washington — which showed that the Sun Devils have the talent to compete at that level. It just hasn’t been a consistent effort.
The University of Arizona, the last opponent on the regular-season schedule, just squeezed into the Top 25 after beating then-No. 15 Washington State last week. A win against the rival Wildcats would be a great way to end the season, but wouldn’t be an impact victory – unless the Cats climb a long way up the national ladder between now and then.
But you can bet Graham will nonetheless use at least part of his Thanksgiving day in preparation for that Nov. 25 contest in Tempe.
The November slate begins with Saturday’s game against Colorado. And that conjures up bad memories of its own. Colorado’s’ 40-16 win in Boulder last year started the Sun Devils’ six-game losing streak.
The Buffaloes will come into Sun Devil Stadium on a roll after back-to-back Pac-12 victories.
Ironically, Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre finds himself in a situation very similar to that of ASU’s Graham.
MacIntyre even has a name for the games in November. He calls them the”gold games” because, as he points out, these are the games that oftentimes determine how an entire season is judged. A win against ASU would assure the Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) of a winning record and bowl eligibility.
Unlike Graham, MacIntyre isn’t coming off two consecutive losing seasons.
That means the ASU boss has considerably more incentive to win tomorrow’s match-up. And three more after that.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)