Feel free to question Arizona State's controversial victory last week. As far as coach Todd Graham is concerned, his team earned it.
Facing No. 5 Stanford on the road in both teams' Pac-12 opener Saturday presents a new set of challenges, though, as the 23rd-ranked Sun Devils continue a tough start to their schedule.
Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave appeared to put his team in position to attempt a winning field goal as he took a knee between the hash marks in the closing seconds Saturday. After going down and quickly bouncing back up, however, Stave placed the ball on the ground causing confusion between the teams as Graham shouted to his players to jump on the ball in case it was ruled a fumble.
Meanwhile, the clocked kept running, the officials failed to restart play in an efficient manner and Arizona State (2-0) held on for a 32-30 victory over the then-No. 20 Badgers as time expired.
Though Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott issued an admission of the officials' error, Graham isn't letting anyone take away the accomplishment of his team's victory.
"We just beat the defending Big Ten champion,'' Graham said. "That's the human element of the game, but at the end of the day, I'm proud of our guys how hard they played. They deserved to win and I truly believe that."
Some may not, and that's fine by Graham. He's moved on to Stanford, the defending conference champion and Rose Bowl winner. Arizona State has lost in five of its last six trips to Palo Alto.
"These games are the conference games and are the most important games," Graham said. "At the end of the season, we are going to evaluate how many wins and how many losses you had and whether you won a (conference) championship. So signature wins and things like that I can tell you that our program is in a position to compete for a championship."
That may prove to be the case if the Sun Devils continue getting solid performances from Taylor Kelly and Marion Grice. Kelly went 29 of 51 for 352 yards last week, and he has posted a 169.9 passer rating while throwing 13 touchdowns and one interception over his last five games.
Grice ran 22 times for 84 yards and four touchdowns against the Badgers as Arizona State rolled up 468 yards of offense. Graham, though, knows Stanford is going to make life tough for his offense this week.
"(Stanford) knows (its) identity. So did the team last week, they understood their identity,'' Graham said. "That's what championship teams have, an identity. I think our team is starting to get that.''
The Sun Devils likely will have that attitude if they come out of this stretch unbeaten. After facing Stanford, they'll host Southern California next week before No. 22 Notre Dame visits Oct. 5.
First up are the Cardinal, who are looking to start 3-0 in four straight years for the first time in the modern football era. Kevin Hogan went 11 of 18 for 188 yards and three touchdowns with one interception to help Stanford beat Army 34-20 last week.
Hogan made his seventh start after taking the reins last year, when he led the Cardinal to six straight wins to close the season.
"He hasn't truly even broached his sophomore year yet,'' coach David Shaw said. "There's so much growth that has happened. He's so mature that you forget how young he still is."
Shaw again was pleased with his team's offense, which gained 408 yards after recording 404 in a 34-13 win over San Jose State on Sept. 7. Tyler Gaffney ran for 132 yards and a touchdown, while Ty Montgomery caught six passes for 130 yards and a score.
"As far as the overall offense and what we want to do, we're more diverse than we've been in years,'' Shaw said. "We want to be able to change personnel groupings and have the diversity to be good in everything that we do. The emphasis is there because we've got the guys to do it.''
Stanford, winner of eight of its last nine home games against ranked opponents, hasn't faced Arizona State since a 17-13 road victory Nov. 13, 2010.