Pac-12 Conference Championship
No. 7 Stanford at No. 11 Arizona State
Dec. 7, 7:45 p.m. ET, Sun Devil Stadium
HOW THESE TEAMS GOT HERE:
Stanford: Using a stellar running game and stingy defense, the Cardinal started off the season 5-0 before a perplexing loss on the road at Utah, but then quickly rebounded with impressive wins over UCLA, Oregon State, and Oregon. A tough loss at USC followed before the Cardinal finished out the year with wins over Cal and Notre Dame to finish the regular season at 10-2. In a week three matchup with Arizona State, Stanford handled the Sun Devils at home 42-28.
Arizona State: Arizona State stumbled out the gates with a 3-2 start (including the Stanford loss) before reeling off seven straight conference wins to finish the regular season at 10-2. The Sun Devils feature a high-powered offense that averages a whopping 43.3 points per game, good for eighth best in the country. A late-season 38-33 win on the road at UCLA clinched a ticket to the title game. A 58-21 win in the season finale over Arizona gave the Sun Devils home-field advantage.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Tyler Gaffney is one of the toughest and most durable backs in the country. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch the Oregon game tape where the 6-foot-1, 221-pound senior carried the ball 45 times for 157 yards to help the Cardinal upset the then-undefeated Ducks. Gaffney is eighth in the country with 1,485 rushing yards on 284 carries and 17 touchdowns and is sure to see plenty of carries Saturday.
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: In a season where he has scored 35 total touchdowns, Taylor Kelly proved to be an extremely versatile athlete at the quarterback position. The junior has thrown for 3,337 yards, but is also second on the team with 437 yards rushing. His most impressive performance of the year came in that crucial late-season win over UCLA where he completed 20-of-27 passes (74.1 percent) for 225 yards and a touchdown while also carrying the ball 22 times for 99 yards and another touchdown. He’ll have his work cut out for him against a Stanford defense that sacked him three times and intercepted him twice in Week 3.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Todd Graham has the Sun Devils playing at a completely different level than the team that lost to Stanford back in September. ASU’s potent offense should provide a fantastic test for Stanford’s defense, a defense that allowed just 19 points per game (13th best in the country). It should be a raucous environment at Sun Devil Stadium in a game between two evenly-matched teams.
WHAT’S ON THE LINE: A berth in the Rose Bowl is on the line for the Pac-12 champ, who will likely play Michigan State if the Spartans fall to No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
PREDICTION: This game is really a toss-up and could be the most exciting contest of the weekend. Arizona State is undefeated at home this year and has won its home games by an average of 28 points. Both of Stanford’s losses have been on the road, but Stanford’s stingy defense and a heavy dose of Tyler Gaffney will be tough for ASU to handle. Taylor Kelly’s increased production on the ground has been a plus for ASU, but with Marion Grice out, I think the Cardinal defense will be up to the challenge and to propel Stanford to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year. Stanford 31-27.
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