PASADENA, Calif. Brock Osweiler was just a quarterback wannabe when he took the field in relief of injured starter Steven Threet last November at Sun Devil Stadium. Threet had been knocked out with another concussion, Arizona State trailed UCLA 17-0 and the Sun Devils appeared headed for their third consecutive losing season under coach Dennis Erickson.
Then Osweiler did something unexpected. He provided a spark of hope for the future. He threw for 380 yards, four touchdowns and rushed for another as ASU rallied to beat the Bruins 55-34, marking the second-highest scoring total the Sun Devils have posted against any Pac-10 opponent in their history. ASU finished the season with two wins and some much-needed momentum. They're 8-2 from that point forward.
"It's crazy how times flies," Osweiler said Thursday. "To think it was almost a year ago, playing UCLA, when I was kind of given really my first real big shot. It brings back great memories and that was a lot of fun."
It was also the game that gave Osweiler the confidence he needed heading into this much-hyped 2011 season.
"It definitely got the ball rolling," he said. "UCLA gave me the confidence that I could be a starter at the Pac-10 (now Pac-12). I played well and I tried to build upon that with every football game this year. So far it has been working."
Osweiler is third in the Pac-12 in passing yards per game (284.4), leading a reporter on the Pac-12's weekly conference call to ask Erickson if Osweiler is comfortable being mentioned in the same breath as the conference's elite quarterbacks, Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Nick Foles.
"He's got a long ways to go," Erickson said. "He's just getting started."
The same can be said of the Sun Devils. Saturday's game at the Rose Bowl is both a literal roadblock and a metaphorical symbol of what lies ahead. If ASU (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) beats UCLA (4-4, 3-2), it wraps up the Pac-12 South Division in all but mathematical terms and pretty much punches its ticket to the conference's inaugural title game in Palo Alto, Calif., Eugene, Ore., or, if things go really well, Sun Devil Stadium.
Taking it a step further, with a win in the conference championship game however farfetched that might seem to the college football cognoscenti ASU could also end up right back in this hallowed hall, playing in the game every Sun Devil set as his goal at the start of the season: The Rose Bowl.
With the exception of a disheartening loss at Illinois, ASU has done what it was supposed to this season.
"Now the mood shifts to finish," Osweiler said. "Finish what we got started and secure the South. Obviously, everything is in our hands. We control our own destiny and, as a football team starting November, you can't ask for a better situation.
"We understand what is on the table for us to achieve and now we just have to go out there, stay focused and take care of business."