Arizona State hopes to be the talk of the college football world next week, when the Sun Devils will face the nation's preseason No. 1 team in a key non-conference battle that could have BCS bowl implications.
First, however, 15th-ranked ASU will have to take care of business without much attention, as it welcomes UNLV to Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday for the first-ever meeting between the schools.
ASU has certainly had Sept. 20 circled on the calendar for some time, with current No. 2 Georgia set to visit Tempe in a possible statement game for Dennis Erickson's program.
But that game will lose much of its luster if the Sun Devils (2-0) can't beat UNLV, which has lost nine of its last 10 games overall, 21 of 22 on the road and seven in a row against ranked opponents.
"Our players know the schedule," Erickson said. "But they're also very focused on what they need to get done."
They have done it the first two weeks of the season, racking up a total of 71 points in a pair of victories against Northern Arizona and Stanford. ASU opened its Pac-10 slate with a 41-17 win over the Cardinal last Saturday, with senior quarterback Rudy Carpenter throwing for 345 yards and three touchdowns. One of those was to senior receiver Michael Jones, who has 241 receiving yards this year.
Carpenter, who's fifth in the nation with 733 passing yards, said he's not concerned about the Sun Devils looking ahead or falling into a trap on Saturday.
"That's one of the things coach Erickson has done since he's gotten here, which is just really take one game at a time and one day at a time," Carpenter said. "I know it's cliche and everyone says it, but coach Erickson really means it."
With a couple of key players possibly out for Saturday's game, ASU may have some hurdles to overcome. Linebacker Gerald Munns, who had an interception and seven tackles against Stanford, is likely to miss the game after having a pin inserted in a broken finger, while running back Keegan Herring is questionable with a hamstring injury.
The Sun Devils also have a major area for improvement against UNLV. ASU's goal-line offense sputtered early against Stanford, as the team settled for two short field goals and was behind 7-6 midway through the second quarter.
"We've just got a lot of work to do," Erickson said. "We're not near where we need to be to compete in our league. I just don't think we're there yet or close to it."
The Rebels (1-1) found that out about themselves the hard way last Saturday. UNLV opened its Mountain West Conference schedule with a 42-21 loss to No. 22 Utah, allowing 35 straight points to squander a 14-7 lead.
"We have to eliminate penalties and play four quarters consistently," fourth-year Rebels coach Mike Sanford said. "In reality, we have not played four good quarters of football yet."
UNLV is 7-30 under Sanford, but that hasn't stopped Erickson from sounding concerned about the Rebels. Those concerns may be well founded regarding running back Frank Summers, who had 87 yards in each of the Rebels' first two games, scoring a pair of touchdowns against Utah.
"He is about 235 pounds, and he's a beast who can really run in there," Erickson said. "They move the football and they play a good defense. They are very capable of beating us. We are a team that has to focus every week against every opponent and if we don't, then we're not going to win the game and our players know that."
Erickson's Oregon State players had no problem with UNLV on Sept. 14, 2002, when the Beavers beat the Rebels 47-17 during Erickson's final season in Corvallis. That was the last time UNLV faced a Pac-10 opponent.
Top 25 Overview
Arizona State will be playing its last tune-up game before embarking on a brutal stretch of four games against ranked opponents. But first the Sun Devils must dispatch UNLV. The Rebels have lost 21 of 22 on the road, and seven in a row against ranked foes.