- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2011

TEMPE, ARIZ. (AP) - After three seasons without a bowl game and plenty of speculation about the head coach’s job, Arizona State faces something a little different this season: expectations.

Not the hope-we’ll-be-good kind that every team has this time of the year. The Sun Devils have reason to aim high. And, being as deep, fast, athletic and experienced as it is, Arizona State can look at perhaps the Pac-12 Championship and the Rose Bowl, and even beyond, without generating too many guffaws.

“The only talk we’ve had is about working hard and getting to New Orleans,” Arizona State receiver Gerell Robinson said. “As much as everybody wants to go to the Rose Bowl, I mean, I’ve been to California. I haven’t been to New Orleans yet. That’s our mindset, to be honest with you.”

OK, so a lot will have to go right in Tempe for the Sun Devils to earn a trip to the Big Easy for January’s BCS title game.

A team that hasn’t won more than six games for three straight seasons doesn’t just climb from the middle of the pack to national championship contention.

But the outlook _ not to mention those intimidating black pitchforked uniforms _ is much better than it has been, that’s for sure.

Experience is part of it. The Sun Devils return nine starters from a stout defense and all 11 on offense, if you count quarterback Brock Osweiler, who finished off the last two games in 2010 after Steven Threet went down with a concussion.

Along with that experience is plenty of depth, a rarity for coach Dennis Erickson, who’s had to rely on a few too many underclassmen the past couple of seasons.

Erickson also has arguably his fastest team in five seasons in the desert and maybe his most athletic, too.

With only a handful of question marks, the Sun Devils seem poised to be a force in the new-look conference.

“I like this football team a lot,” Erickson said. “I feel like we can win a lot of football games, but we’ve got to go out and do it. Talk is cheap.”

There’s plenty to talk about with these Devils.

On offense, their talent level ranks among the tops in the Pac-12.

Arizona State returns its entire offensive line and has depth behind them.

Robinson, Mike Willie and Aaron Pflugrad make up one of the best, if not fastest receiving corps in the conference.

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