Arizona State Football: Sun Devils Return to Top 25 Prior to Notre Dame Matchup
Arizona State University and the University of Notre Dame haven't played each other since a home-and-home series at the end of the last century.
The Sun Devils were coming off an 11-1 season in 1996 and a 9-3 season in 1997 before playing the Fighting Irish, and everybody in the desert believed that the Sun Devil football program was a team destined for years of greatness.
The embarrassing losses to Notre Dame in 1998 and 1999 were harbingers of things to come.
Arizona State only played in three bowl games in the next six seasons—losing all three, including back-to-back Aloha Bowls.
The 2013 Fighting Irish are coming off a national championship berth last season but have played a difficult stretch of games to open this year. It is the Sun Devils (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) that are nationally ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, not Notre Dame (3-2). The Fighting Irish have a narrow victory over Michigan State and losses to No. 17 Michigan and No. 14 Oklahoma at home.
Arizona State has a controversial victory over Wisconsin as well as a convincing victory over USC, hanging 62 points against the then-No. 4 defense in the country. The Sun Devils' lone loss came on the road at No. 5 Stanford, who shot out of the gate, scoring the first 29 points of the game. Arizona State battled back but didn't have enough in the end.
The question has now changed from, "Is Arizona State ready for Notre Dame?" to "Is Notre Dame ready for Arizona State?"
Head coach Todd Graham's high-octane offense blistered conference rival USC to the tune of 62 points and 612 total yards. Both rank second in all-time conference play for the Sun Devils. They are averaging 44.3 points per game, the 12th-most in FBS, and redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly leads an offense that ranks No. 7 in passing the country, averaging 358.8 yards per game.
Running back Marion Grice leads all players in the nation with 12 touchdowns (eight rushing, four receiving.) In fact, Grice has scored more touchdowns than 28 FBS teams. His 72 points are far and away the highest in the league, and he is tied with 12 others averaging 18 points per game.
Even with such amazing numbers, many feel like he can perform better—a lot better. Junior guard Jamil Douglas says of Grice, per Doug Haller of AZCentral.com, “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him run full speed.”
“It doesn’t look like he’s trying,” ASU coach Todd Graham said, per Haller. “He has a weird style. What’d he score, four touchdowns (in Saturday’s 62-41 win over USC)? He’s just phenomenal. He has this way of eluding people very smoothly to get to the end zone. He’s a unique back.”
According to Jeremy Hawkes from the ASU Athletics website, only 12 teams in the history of college football have played both USC and Notre Dame in the same season. No team has beaten them both.
This is going to be a battle of epic proportions with both teams donning special uniforms and flashy helmets for the contest. The game will be broadcast nationally on NBC as a home game for Notre Dame, although it will feel like a home game for Coach Graham, who grew up in nearby Mesquite, Texas.
Can the Irish right the ship and maintain national prominence, or will Arizona State become the only team to complete the USC/ND sweep?
Tune in Saturday, October 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET to witness the carnage. If you can't get near a television set, the game will also be broadcast locally in the Phoenix metropolitan area on Sports 620 KTAR AM and nationally on Sirius Channel 134, XM Channel 197 for the Arizona State feed and Sirius/XM Channel 129 for the Notre Dame feed.
Game Prediction Arizona State 42, Notre Dame 38
David is the Featured Columnist of Arizona State Athletics for B/R. Follow him on Twitter at @asudave.
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