After finishing with a 4-5 conference record in 2011, Arizona State has several significant obstacles to overcome this upcoming year. It loses its top three receivers and gains a new starting quarterback for the fifth straight season, a feat that most programs do not want to duplicate. Maybe ASU needs some motivation; for that, the Sun Devils should reflect on their team’s best season in 1996.
The 1996 Sun Devils not only finished their season with an 11-1 record, they also added arguably the greatest upset in program history to their resume. The year prior, the Nebraska Cornhuskers defeated the Sun Devils in an absolute blow-out, 77-28. Then in 1996, the Nebraska University squad came in riding a 26 game win streak — a streak that included back-to-back national championships. So when the Cornhuskers came to Tempe in September, the chances for an Arizona State victory were slim to none. However, that memo never reached the Sun Devils.
State came out fired up and ready to go, and on the team’s first drive, quarterback Jake “The Snake” Plummer connected with Keith Poole in the end zone for a touchdown. This got the momentum rolling in its favor and by halftime, ASU was leading 17-0.
According to Tim Layden’s Devil of an Upset, the Sun Devils were spurred on by the bitter memory of the 1995 loss and inspired by the emotional halftime dedication of the Sun Devil stadium field to former coach Frank Kush. ASU not only defeated the defending champions, but they shut them out with a score of 19-0. The Sun Devils defense forced a record three safeties in the game; the Nebraska Cornhuskers were finally dislodged from the top spot in the rankings.
The emotional aftermath of the game was chaotic in the Sun Devil Stadium. ASU fans flooded the field, ripped down the goalpost, carried it out of the stadium, and threw it over the Mill Avenue Bridge. However, they did so with good reason: since joining the PAC-10 (now the PAC-12), ASU has only been to the Rose Bowl twice – and 1996 was one of those years. Unfortunately, Arizona State fell apart in the fourth quarter against Ohio State in that Rose Bowl game. Nonetheless, the 1996 ASU football team won the second of three total PAC-10 titles for the school, and is a team that can be looked back to for great inspiration.
The 2012 ASU squad has made many additions and changes to both the offense and defense — only time can tell if they will pay off. In the meantime, perhaps looking back to their 1996 team can inspire the Sun Devils to progress from the middle of the PAC-12 and into the top of the rankings.