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The field at Sun Devil Stadium is illuminated.

The marching band is jazzed, ready to blare as many celebratory “Maroon and Gold” renditions as needed and have its sweet sounds reverberate between the buttes.

The drunkard section, also known as the “student section,” is teeming. Gold-clad rowdies are already filling up the overflow area in the upper deck, cursing about wristbands.

The team is in the tunnel, loaded up on adrenaline and ready for a hard-hitting football game as “Thunderstruck” echoes through the bleachers.

And the opponent is… NAU?

Screw that, we’re ready for some real football. This is our year.

Or so we hope, so we’ve hoped for many years now, in fact.

Is this season finally going to be “the one?” Will ASU finally break into the fraternity of elite, BCS-caliber football programs?

If previous seasons have given us any indication, we’re a little less than enthused. After all, if we’ve learned anything from past teams, there are plenty of reasons to cringe.

Besides an inexperienced offensive front and the far-from-friendly confines of Cal, USC, Oregon State, Washington and UA — where the Devils will play their road games — the big-game track record of the past two years is abysmal.

Looking merely at the 2006 and 2007 games against Pac-10 competitors Cal, USC and Oregon, you will find a 1-5 record; you will find quarterback Rudy Carpenter averaging just over 167 yards per game, with one touchdown and one interception; you will find an embarrassing track record of coming out flat in high-pressure games (the first half-point differential in those six conference games was 155-68; that number goes up to 186-88 when you count the 2006 Hawaii Bowl and 2007 Holiday Bowl).

With the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll — Georgia and USC — on the schedule, any hopes of becoming a championship-quality program will hinge on that trend changing this fall.

Rolling over our wood-chopping northern counterparts this Saturday night would be a good start, but, assuming the ’Jacks haven’t been drinking water from Appalachian State, the true work lies ahead.

It’s already a make-or-break season in Dennis Erickson’s sophomore year: Make it to Pasadena and upper echelon or destroy Devils fans’ souls with another run-of-the-mill, back-of-the-Top-25 finish.

Will the team live up to their preseason hype and give USC a run for the Pac-10 title? Or will the team be in a dogfight — Calm down, Michael Vick, we weren’t talking about you. — for the Holiday Bowl?

Our hearts tell us the BCS could be calling, but our minds say to hope for, at best, a 10-2 season, with the team coming out of a nasty stretch against Georgia, Cal, USC and Oregon breaking even.

We want to believe. We want, as always, to be coming up roses.

But for now, history holds us back. Can Carpenter and company do what we can’t and leave the past behind?

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