We just can't fathom heading into the game between the California Golden Bears and the Arizona State Sun Devils without learning a little more about out pitchfork-wielding foes, so we took the Number 12 bus to the House of Sparky (it's three stops before Satan's Butthole) to get caught up on Todd Graham and company. Thanks to the House of Sparky team and Josh Nacion for talking with us!
1. Do ASU fans care particularly about this weird, post–rivalry game match-up? And do you anticipate the ASU players to be focused for the game with bowl eligibility already secured?
Josh Nacion (JN): I don't think fans care too much. Many are calling the season complete after ASU beat Arizona, so this game will likely have the least fan interest in ASU's entire season. As for players and coaches, I expect them to stay focused. The team's whole mantra this season is players playing for each other, and I don't see this game being different than any other for the season.
2. I think most Pac-12 fans expected ASU to compete with Utah, USC, and UCLA for the Pac-12 South title. How disappointed are ASU fans that the Sun Devils quickly fell out of contention?
JN: ASU fans thought the sky was falling before the Arizona game. Many fans believed the hype that ASU was going to the Playoff, so that amplified the disappointment even more. Most fans are calling for offensive coordinator Mike Norvell to be fired and, of course, there are extreme ones who already want Todd Graham fired.
3. Mike Bercovici seems like kinda an average quarterback. Strengths and weaknesses?
JN: Strengths: He's an outstanding leader. When he speaks, he's basically Todd Graham's brain-child in terms of reiterating the team's values and philosophies. He's a lethal passer when he drops back in the pocket in a normal passing play.
Weaknesses: He's a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Bercovici is a pocket passer, but ASU's offense mostly consists of play-action, read-option elements. He doesn't threaten defenses with his running ability (or his lack thereof), which is why the Sun Devils' offense has been so poor this season.
4. ASU is 1st in the country in total sacks and 85th in the country in yards/play allowed. Do you like ASU's ultra aggressive defense, or does it drive you insane?
JN: I personally have a love-hate relationship with the aggressiveness. If the defense is in sync, opposing offenses can't get much going and I've seen quarterbacks look like they want to die near the end of games. Pretty much in every ASU game, one moment the Sun Devils will get like three TFLs for loss in a row before other team's turn it around with an 80-yard touchdown run.
5. This will be Todd Graham's fourth straight season of going bowling in Tempe. Take stock of his four years at ASU—what has gone right and where does he need to improve to get the Sun Devils consistently in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title?
JN: Todd Graham has completely changed the culture of the program. He sets high expectations and the Sun Devils are now starting to get more elite recruits every year. The program has been on an upward climb until this season. To be consistent, ASU can't afford to be outcoached in terms of in-game adjustments every week. That's been the Achilles heel so far.
6. Hypothetical: would you rather have Arizona get to the CFP or no Pac-12 teams. Why?
JN: I don't like to think like a hardcore fan, so I'm in the extreme minority for this question and a bad person to ask. Personally, I would be OK with seeing a conference rival making the CFP. Three words: conference revenue sharing. As long as there's a Pac-12 team in the CFP, it likely means more money for the conference, which means more goes into revenue sharing for each team, and more money makes athletic departments happy at the end of the day. Unfortunately, most fans don't think this way.
7. Who's one under the radar player on offense and defense that Cal should know about?
JN: On offense—Tim White. He was ASU's best receiver for about the first half of the season, but has dropped off recently. On defense—JoJo Wicker. He's only a freshman, but his pass rushing is already tough to contain. He'll be a name the Pac-12 will hear a lot for the next three years.
8. To win this game, Cal must ________ and stop ASU from _________.
JN: "limit its own turnovers" and "giving the ball to running backs Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage."
9. Since both teams are bowl-eligible with not a ton to play for, will ASU try to get some promising younger players on the field? If so, who, and what impact could they have?
JN: I don't anticipate ASU doing so, since the team will probably still go out like this game matters. The only one I could see playing in the event Mike Bercovici isn't doing well is redshirt freshman backup quarterback Manny Wilkins, who matches ASU's offense better and will compete for the starting job next season.
10. Whom do you want to punch in the face and why?
JN: Boy, that escalated quickly...I don't want to say "punch," but we can all be mad at Arizona for eliminating the Pac-12's hopes of sending a team to the CFP this year.
You're definitely going to want to refresh if you can't see the video above this.
11. Cal defeated ASU in the made-for-ESPN "Heroes of the Dorm" eSports national title showdown. ASU Baseball vowed revenge, but lost the series to Cal; ASU Football posted this Tweet shortly after the loss. How many "ham on the core" drills have the Devils done this offseason in anticipation of this chance for revenge?
JN: It was a fun thing over the summer while fans waited for football season to begin, but the ASU community has been in so much disarray that it's been forgotten. We at House of Sparky will make sure it's still going to be a thing for the rest of the week.