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November 17, 2010Dennis Erickson is familiar with the bottom line. After all his years in the business -- more than 40 if you include his time as a collegiate quarterback -- the Arizona State coach knows that winning is what matters in college football.
It is with this knowledge in mind that Erickson praised his team's effort following Tuesday's practice, a short but spirited session that kicked off the Sun Devils' final bye week of the season.
Despite an agonizing stretch of oh-so-close losses that have had coaches, players and fans frustrated to the point of hair pulling, Erickson said he has been thoroughly impressed by the lack of quit in his players.
"They've played hard and they've practiced hard," the coach said. "They came out today with a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm. That's tough when you've lost two football games the way we have the last two times out against two pretty darn good football teams."
The team's play in games this season, though often marred by their excruciating outcomes, gives credence to Erickson's assessment.
Outside of the debacle at Cal in which ASU followed a bye week with a 33-point drubbing at the hands of the Golden Bears, the Sun Devils have been highly competitive and in position to win each contest.
Though Erickson knows that fact is hardly a consolation prize for his squad, he said it illustrates the preparation the team continues to approach each game with.
"They've got a lot to 'em, they really do," Erickson said of his players. "They know we've got two games left, the first against UCLA and then the next one [against Arizona]. The one thing about having a young team is they'll continue to improve and get better. That's the good thing about having a lot of sophomores and juniors."
While the Sun Devils are motivating themselves on pride during the final stretch of the season, they are finding added incentive in the slim possibility they still have of playing in a bowl game, which could occur if ASU gets to 6-6 and gets a special waiver from the NCAA that could come if there are not enough bowl-eligible teams to fill the 35 bowl games.
If Omar Bolden's tweet from afternoon is any indication -- "We need this BOWL GAME$$$!!!" -- the Sun Devils are still fighting hard for the potential opportunity to play in their first bowl game since 2007, regardless of how slim the possibility may be.
"Whenever you can draw off a possibility, I guess, is where we're at right now," Erickson said. "The bottom line for us is we can't worry about that. We've just got to beat UCLA and then go to the next one. We've just got to see what happens. It doesn't matter if we don't win two games."
Junior wide receiver T.J. Simpson missed the majority of practice with what was described as a slight ankle injury, but Erickson said it is nothing that would keep Simpson out of the lineup when ASU hosts UCLA on Nov. 27.
Senior linebacker Gerald Munns, who didn't play against Stanford because of a hip pointer, returned to action Tuesday. Sophomore defensive tackle Corey Adams (neck stinger) did not practice.