This weekend, ASU football takes on No. 20 Washington in its annual Homecoming game, a contest that very well could decide the direction of the team’s season moving forward.
Owners of a respectable 4-2 record with losses to Stanford and Notre Dame, ASU is lurking just outside of the AP Top 25 poll and is second in the Pac-12 South.
The Sun Devils head into the game against the visiting Huskies coming off a 54-13 blowout of Colorado at home, a game in which the Sun Devils scored at least 20 in each of the first two quarters.
Now, ASU must contend with Washington, the third ranked team the Sun Devils have faced this season. The Huskies are coming of a 45-24 loss to Oregon but, behind athletic senior quarterback Keith Price, remain a dangerous opponent.
As a conference game against a ranked opponent, this game is going to be very important for Todd Graham’s bunch.
Much was made of ASU’s schedule to start the season, which featured consecutive games against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame. But now that the difficult early season games are largely over, ASU isn’t facing a much easier road from here on out.
The way the Pac-12 has played out this season, the next few weeks will be just as pivotal as the first five, albeit without the brand-name opponents.
After Washington, ASU is on the road to face Washington State and a Utah team that just took down Stanford — one of the only two teams to beat the Sun Devils in 2013.
Then ASU is home to face a tough Oregon State team before visiting UCLA on the road in a game that very well could decide the Pac-12 South champion.
ASU will then finish its regular season against UA at home.
In terms of difficult competition, weeks two through six might have been the most challenging for the Sun Devils this season, but in terms of conference implications and postseason determinations, the schedule is about to get very tricky.
The Sun Devils cannot afford slip-ups against seemingly beatable teams like Washington State and Utah.
They will need to bring their “A” games to take on Oregon State, UCLA and UA. If they don’t, they could see their season end with a middling bowl game instead of a shot at the Rose Bowl.
Washington is the first hurdle to vault in this important stretch of games, though. Coming in, the Huskies will be a very difficult opponent. They are 4-2 on the season, same as ASU, but have lost two of their first three conference games.
Keep in mind that those two losses came against Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks. Before that stretch, Washington was 4-0.
The Huskies are 14th in the nation in rushing yards per game at 248, meaning that their strength plays right into ASU’s weaknesses defensively.
So far in 2013, the Sun Devils have been vulnerable to explosive rushing attacks and haven’t shown a consistent ability to shut down the run. If they let Washington have their way on the ground, the ASU offense will feel the pressure to pick up the slack.
And the Husky defense isn’t anything to sneeze at, either. Washington averages 19.8 points against this season, which ranks 25th in the nation.
But ASU is playing at home, where it hasn’t lost all season and where it has scored 116 points combined in its last two home contests against USC and Colorado.
Although they are not ranked, the Sun Devils have hovered at the fringes of the top 25 since their upset of Wisconsin in the second game of the season.
Had the Sun Devils been able to pull off a late upset against Notre Dame two weeks ago, they could very well be a ranked team, maybe even higher than Washington.
So this is a very winnable game for ASU as it is a talented team with the chance to take over the game with their offense.
And the offense will most-likely have to take over.
Although this game isn’t do-or-die so to speak, fans could very well look back on this contest as a big turning point in ASU’s season.
In their Homecoming, the Sun Devils will need to be up to the task of making sure their season takes a turn in the right direction.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ICBeck21