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Has Arizona State turned the corner?

Sun Devils are riding high after a breakthrough win over USC. Dave Miller

Print This September 29, 2011, 01:30 PM EST

Throughout the offseason, many Pac-12 observers felt that Arizona State was the favorite to claim the South division and compete in the league's inaugural conference championship game.

But there was a catch.

Under Dennis Erickson, the Sun Devils have had a history of underachieving. And, specifically, doing enough things to lose close contests when they matched up pretty well talent-wise with strong opponents. With ASU having a tough nonconference slate this fall, many wondered if the Sun Devils had the capability to enter league play with enough confidence.

Brock OsweilerICONBrock Osweiler leads a balanced Sun Devils offense.

Despite having some rough stretches in the game, Erickson's squad notched a big victory over Missouri on national television in Week 2 behind the arm of quarterback Brock Osweiler. However, all of that momentum was lost the next week when the Sun Devils were tripped up by Illinois on the road.

Same old Sun Devils, right? Especially with USC coming to town.

But last weekend, ASU was able to put behind its frustrating loss to the Fighting Illini and notch a huge home victory over the Trojans -- and it was a thorough win.

We knew the defense would be strong this season, even with a couple of key injuries the team was dealt in the preseason.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley may think linebacker Vontaze Burfict is a "dirty" player, but anyone around the Sun Devils program just knows he's one of the best in the nation. Position mate Shelly Lyons was just named the league's defensive player of the week, and Erickson said fellow 'backer Colin Parker has been ASU's best defensive player this season. And, as if things could go any better, cornerback Omar Bolden could possibly return in late October to give this defense an even bigger boost.

But offensively is where ASU has made its biggest strides, as Osweiler has eased concerns about his lack of starting experience by looking comfortable in the team's spread offense through the first four games. And he has playmakers around him, notably receiver Aaron Pflugrad, who has 22 receptions for 344 yards and four touchdowns.

But perhaps the biggest reason for the Sun Devils' ability to close games is the play of junior running back Cameron Marshall, who has given this offense very good balance. He's coming off of a standout effort against the Trojans, when he rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns. Sophomore Kyle Middlebrooks and junior Jamal Miles have also contributed on the ground this season, but Marshall's special ability has made this offense a true force to be reckoned with this fall.

And it has made this complete team the favorite in the Pac-12 South -- at least until ASU battles Utah next weekend.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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