Arizona State quarterback Andrew Walter turned down a chance to play in the NFL last season to return to a 5-7 team with many question marks.
The fifth-year senior didn't know what the future would bring, but the Sun Devils have rewarded his loyalty to the program with a No. 18 ranking, the team's best record since 1997 and a place in the Pacific 10 Conference record books.
ASU (8-2, 5-2) will play in its second bowl game in the last three years and much of the Sun Devils' success has been because of their three-year captain.
"I think Andrew (Walter) has had an exceptional year," said ASU head coach Dirk Koetter to media in Phoenix earlier in the week. "Sure, there are a couple of games we'd like to have back. But there are plenty games that because of what he did is a reason we are where we are."
Team nickname: Sun Devils
Not only has Walter's return for his senior season put the Sun Devils in the national ranking, but it has also bolstered his stock in the NFL.
"He's done a great job this year and there's no question in my mind that he has dramatically increased his stock," said Koetter. "I think that will show up in April when the draft comes around. He still has a lot of room to grow as a quarterback and he's going to be a great pro."
Arizona head coach Mike Stoops agreed, saying he expects Walter to go somewhere in the first round.
On the way to upping his NFL potential, he has also put his name in the Pac-10 record books by leading the conference in career touchdown passes with 85, surpassing former Stanford great and NFL Hall of Famer John Elway earlier this season.
"Andrew Walter is terrific," said Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. "I thought he's played as well as anyone through the course of the year. His accuracy in throwing the ball down field, is very, very good."
In addition to etching his name in the conference record books, Walter has worked his way onto two major quarterback awards list, being one of nine finalists on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and one of 13 signal-callers up for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award.
"He makes plays. He's their leader and does what needs to be done," said Arizona junior safety Darrell Brooks. "You can tell he reads coverages very well and they attack the defense. They execute every week."
Walter has led the Sun Devil offensive attack to a No. 2 offensive ranking in the Pac-10 Conference and a No. 9 national ranking, averaging 302.4 passing yards a contest en route to 30.4 points per game.
The one bright spot for the Arizona secondary is they have faced top-flight quarterbacks before.
The Wildcat defense has faced Northern Arizona's Jason Murrietta, Utah's Alex Smith, Oregon's Kellen Clemens, Cal's Aaron Rodgers, Oregon State's Derek Anderson and Southern California's Matt Leinart at some point this season.
"Every week we face some of the top QBs in the conference, or in the nation for that matter," Brooks said. "Aaron (Rodgers), Kellen (Clemens). They are all such tremendous quarterbacks, but (Walter) definitely poses a lot of different threats."