By Phil Neuffer, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 11th-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils get a shot at revenge on
Saturday as they host the seventh-ranked Stanford Cardinal in the Pac-12
Championship game at Sun Devil Stadium.
At the end of September the Sun Devils visited the Cardinal as each team
kicked off their league schedule. Although the Sun Devils rallied in the
second half, Stanford was the victorious team on the day, taking a 42-28
decision. The win was the third straight for the Cardinal against the Sun
Devils. However, Arizona State leads the all-time series by a count of 16-12.
On Saturday, the Cardinal will be defending their Pac-12 title after they took
home the league's championship trophy last season. The Cardinal let games
against Utah and USC slip away this season to have their BCS Title hopes
dashed, but they still have a chance at a BCS bowl with a win on Saturday.
Overall, the Cardinal are 10-2 this season, putting them in a class with
Alabama and Oregon as the only FBS squads with 10 wins in the last four
seasons. Stanford has also gone 9-0 during its last nine tries against ranked
"We talked in the beginning of the year about being in the Pac-12 championship
game. That's all we talked about. We made it there. We had ups and downs, we
had bumps and bruises. We lost some guys, had some guys step up. We lost a
couple games," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "But when you look up,
we're where we wanted to be, a 10-win team in the Pac-12 championship game."
The Sun Devils are riding a ton of momentum into this league title bout as
they have won each of their last seven games. The winning streak lifted
Arizona State from a middling 3-2 mark early in the campaign to a 10-2 overall
record. The rise has come as a bit of a shock to some but not head coach Todd
Graham, who was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year earlier this week.
"I'm not surprised because I knew we had the potential talent and to do it,"
Graham said. "But the players deserve the credit because they're the ones that
did it. I'm not surprised about what they've been able to do. Their a talented
group of guys."
The 10 wins are the most for the Sun Devils since 2007 and make for just the
12th 10-win campaign in program history. In 2007 the Sun Devils shared the
Pac-10 championship for its 17th conference title, though just the third in
In a league filled with offensive juggernauts the Cardinal have made due with
an offensive style that doesn't put up gaudy numbers but controls tempo,
relying heavily on the run. The Cardinal are just ninth in the league in total
offense (404.8 ypg) but the only team to have more rushing yards than passing.
Having a workhorse running back like Tyler Gaffney has made the gameplan
successful for Shaw's squad. Gaffney has totaled 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns
this season on 284 carries. Gaffney never goes down easily as he has only lost
21 yards all season. Gaffney has eighth 100-yard efforts on the campaign. That
total is the second most in program history. Gaffney earned second-team All-
Conference honors for his efforts.
Also getting an all-league nod for the offense is Ty Montgomery, who lines up
as the team's top option at receiver. Montgomery has hauled in 53 passes for
868 yards and nine scores this season, and also earned All-Pac 12 First-Team
honors for his work in the return game. Devon Cajuste (25 receptions, 471
yards, five TDs) is the next best option.
Getting the ball to Montgomery and Cajuste is Kevin Hogan, who is not one of
the most productive quarterbacks in the conference, but he is a steady force
under center. On the season, Hogan has completed 61 percent of his pass
attempts for 2,210 yards and 19 scores.
The offense does not need to be a juggernaut, thanks to the pay of the
defense. Led by linebacker Trent Murphy, the Cardinal placed four players on
the All-Pac-12 Defensive team. Murphy (51 tackles, 19.5 TFL, 13.0 sacks) is an
absolute force on the pass rush, leading the nation in sacks. With the help
of fellow first-teamers Shayne Skov (91 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks) and Ben
Gardner (7.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks), Murphy has helped the Cardinal rank 16th
nationally in total defense (341.8 ypg).
Murphy and company will have their hands full on Saturday as they are facing
an Arizona State squad that is third in the Pac-12 in total offense (473.3
Graham is not just being proud of his team when he speaks about the talent on
the roster. The offensive unit features five players on the first or second
However, the Sun Devils are likely going to have to soldier on without second-
team running back Marion Grice, who missed last week's win over Arizona and is
expected to be out this weekend. Replicating his versatility as a rusher and
receiver out of the backfield will be difficult.
Difficult yes, but not impossible. D.J. Foster stepped into the starting
running back role last weekend and excelled to the tune of 124 yards and two
scores on 23 carries. Foster was already making plays as a receiver before
getting the starting gig at running back, as he is second on the team in
receiving yards (550) and receptions (54).
The list of talented skill position players doesn't stop there as Jaelen
Strong (69 receptions, 1,069 yards, seven TDS) has turned in one of the best
seasons from an Arizona State receiver in recent memory. Strong had 142 yards
and a touchdown on four catches against Arizona for his seventh 100-yard
showing of the year. Tight end Chris Coyle (28 receptions, 413 yards, four
TDs) is another reliable target.
Under center, Taylor Kelly's ability to make plays through the air and on the
ground make him one of the toughest signal callers in the league to defend.
Kelly has amassed 3,337 yards and 27 touchdowns when throwing the ball, all
while completing 62.6 percent of his pass attempts; Kelly has been a bit to
careless at times, with 11 interceptions, but the successes have far
outweighed the mistakes. That is especially true considering Kelly has rushed
for 437 yards and eight additional scores.
Arizona State won't be intimidated by Stanford's defensive dominance since the
Sun Devils are just as strong. Led by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will
Sutton, the Sun Devils rank second in the Pac-12 in total defense (351.8 ypg).
What make's Graham's unit so imposing is its ability to cash in on opponents
mistakes. Arizona State leads the Pac-12 in forced turnovers (30), including
five interceptions returned for touchdowns, while having the fewest penalties
in the league (44) for the second straight season.
There are not a whole lot of weak spots for either of these teams. Arizona
State will certainly miss Grice, even with Foster in the lineup. However, the
Sun Devils rarely make mistakes and play extremely well at home (7-0).
Stanford's defensive pressure may be able to force some errant throws from
Kelly, but the same could be said about how the Sun Devils will handle Hogan.
Expect a tighter clash than the one in September and one that ends with a
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arizona State 30, Stanford 28