TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The natural reaction for Arizona State would be to let up after a four-game stretch that was as tough as any team in the country will face this season.
The Sun Devils can’t afford to do that, though.
Not with their goal of winning the Pac-12 championship in place and certainly not with the rise in competition across the Pac-12.
Arizona State (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) starts the bulk of its Pac-12 season on Saturday against Colorado, the first of seven games against what has become a beefed-up conference.
“There is great parity in this league,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “The danger is not taking a team seriously. What happens in a game like this is you go out there and slop around. It ends up beating you down the road or it can beat you then. Then panic sets in.”
Colorado has struggled since joining the Pac-12, going 3-10 in 2011 and 1-11 last year, their worst season in 123 years as a program.
The Buffaloes fired coach Jon Embree after that debacle and replaced him with Mike MacIntyre, who orchestrated a quick turnaround at San Jose State before heading to Boulder. MacIntyre has a little tougher hill to climb at Colorado, but has already made progress in his first season, leading the Buffaloes (2-2, 0-2) to twice as many wins as they had last season.
The next step is to win in the Pac-12.
Since edging Washington State by one last season, Colorado has lost 10 straight conference games.
The last two have been ugly, too: 44-14 to Oregon State on Sept. 28 and 57-16 to No. 2 Oregon last week after leading for most of the first quarter.
Beating Arizona State, which went 2-2 during its brutal stretch in the schedule, would be a good start to get going back in the right direction.
“We definitely need to get a ‘W’ and keep going,” MacIntyre said.
Here’s five things to watch when Colorado and Arizona State meet in the desert Saturday night.
By John Marshall, AP College Football Writer (© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)