Graham sees tough schedule as 'opportunity'

Graham sees tough schedule as 'opportunity'

Published Jan. 11, 2013 2:24 p.m. ET

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State coach Todd Graham knew what teams would be on the 2013 schedule and has probably known in what order for a few weeks, but with the official release of Pac-12 schedule's Thursday, the rest of the world now sees the tough task the Sun Devils face.

In a four-week stretch, following a soft home opener against Sacramento State, ASU takes on Wisconsin at home, Stanford on the road, USC at home and Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

"We've got to have one of the toughest schedules in the country," Graham said Thursday night. "With that comes great opportunity, and obviously we've got a lot of work to do to get ready and prepared for that.

"Year in and year out, not many people are going to play that kind of schedule."

Graham noted that among that group is the Big Ten champion (Wisconsin), Pac-12 champion (Stanford) and a team that played for a national title (Notre Dame). It won't be long before fans get an idea of what the 2013 Sun Devils can do.

Graham admitted it would be nice to spread out physical opponents like Wisconsin, Stanford and Notre Dame, perhaps with a bye week rather than the week 1 break ASU has, but he doesn't worry about it because he can't control it.

"It's obviously a big challenge, and it's not something you want to do every year, but it is something that's exciting for our fans," Graham said. "And with that great challenge comes great opportunity."


ASU made the hiring of new running backs coach Chris Thomsen official Friday with a release, bringing Thomsen back to Tempe a little less than a year after he left the same position here for a position at Texas Tech.

Thomsen replaces Larry Porter, who replaced Thomsen last February and last week became the running backs coach at Texas. Graham on Thursday night praised Porter's coaching and recruiting ability while also stressing his desire to maintain stability with his coaching staff.

"It's something we don't want to do, and Larry was one of our top guys. So that's something we're working hard on to make sure it doesn't happen," Graham said.

"The key is continuity and stability. When you're teaching young people whatever thing about this game it's about building relationships. So if you constantly have turnover in your top coaches it's very difficult to maintain your level and continue to get better."

Graham said Porter wasn't the only assistant coach drawing outside interest. He mentioned offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who according to reports was targeted by Auburn and others. Norvell "made a commitment to stay here," Graham said, and he hopes other coaches will do the same.

Graham is no stranger to losing coaches, though, and detailed the big ones he has lost as a head coach. When Graham coached at Rice, Alabama hired offensive coordinator Major Applewhite away from him. Then at Tulsa, Graham lost offensive coordinator Guz Malzahn to Auburn and his successor Chad Morris to Clemson.
"We're obviously hiring good people and some of the best coaches in this business," Graham said. "But I'll tell you this: I'm at a place now in Arizona State, where we ought to be able to keep them. This is a big-time program with big-time potential."

The one positive in losing coaches or having them targeted, though, is what it says about the program's accomplishments.

"I think it speaks volumes about what people think of what we've done and how we've done it," Graham said. "Guys I've hired are very well-respected."


It's early, but there are already questions about how ASU's quarterback situation will shake out next season considering the Sun Devils have two capable backups behind starter Taylor Kelly and a third committed to join the team.

Graham made it clear Thursday that Kelly is his starting quarterback.

"Obviously he was the starter this year, played 13 ballgames and did a great job for us, did a great job leading our team," Graham said. "We also have two very dynamic players behind him (Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici), so every day we're going to compete. It's always going to be a competition, but it's Taylor's job to lose."

Eubank said earlier this week he has no intention to transfer, and the same was reported previously of Mike Bercovici. Four-star Alpharetta, Ga., quarterback Joshua Dobbs is expected to sign a Letter of Intent next month.

"I like the fact that those guys have made a commitment," Graham said. "There's a lot of transfer talk all the time.

"I like the way these guys have shown their character by saying 'You know what, I want to be a Sun Devil.'"


-- At least 10 players now from the 2012 team won't be back next season. reported Thursday that tight end Max Smith and receiver Karl Holmes Jr., both scholarship players, won't return. Of the 10 known players, six were scholarship athletes. Graham said he does not expect to lose any key contributors to transfers.

-- Graham said the process of getting freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza and freshman safety Laui Moeakiola medical redshirt exceptions for the 2012 season is not complete, but he expects the redshirts to be granted. Both players suffered season-ending injuries early in the schedule.

-- Graham attended the National Football Foundation Arizona High School Champions luncheon in Scottsdale on Friday with Norvell, defensive coordinator Paul Randolph and tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator Chip Long. In an interview before the luncheon, Graham mentioned the team plans to return to Camp Tontozona for five to seven days during fall camp.

-- College sports blog outlined in a post Thursday the tenures of each FBS Division I coach. With 30 of the 125 major college jobs changing leaders in the past year, Graham is now ranked 89th for longest tenure in Division I despite just a little more than a year on the job.