This article is part of our Summer Stock series, a three-week look at the programs generating the most buzz coming out of spring practice.
Dennis Erickson was referring to his offensive line, but you get the sense that he could have been talking about the rest of his team too. "They've learned a lot getting their rear ends kicked over the past few years," the coach said.
Following a 10-3 record in his first season at Arizona State in 2007, Erickson has seen his Sun Devils combine to go 15-21 over the last three years. Now entering his fifth season in Tempe and 23rd overall as a head coach, Erickson is hoping that his veteran squad -- which lost four games by four or fewer points last season, including two (at the Wisconsin Badgers, at USC Trojans) by just a point -- is finally ready to put those hard-learned lessons to good use.
Since 2006, just two teams (Tennessee in 2006 and Pittsburgh in 2008) have landed on the AP's preseason top 25 after finishing the previous season .500 or worse. Given Arizona State's experience -- after all, the Sun Devils bring back 18 starters, including 10 on the offensive side of the ball, from last year's 6-6 squad -- many expect ASU to join that list this season.
To justify that ranking in the fall, Erickson says, the Sun Devils will have to do something they failed to do over and over again last season: finish games. "You've got to find ways to close," he says. "You've got to make plays to win. In those close games, we didn't. We found ways to get beat, whether it be a penalty or a blocked kick or a fumble or a turnover at the end of the football game."