Arizona State Goes from Unlikely Pac-12 South Contender to Rose Bowl Favorite

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterDecember 1, 2013

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Arizona State wasn't even picked to win its own division. 

The Sun Devils were projected by media members before the season to finish second in the Pac-12 South behind up-and-coming UCLA. With a rising star in quarterback Brett Hundley, plus a firm grip on Los Angeles over USC, the Bruins were understandably the sexy pick. 

Throw all the expectations out the window. Arizona State has gone from just a sneaky good team—you know, the one who survived that fluky ending against Wisconsin—to one of the best two-loss teams in the country. 

Now, thanks to a 58-21 win over Arizona, the Pac-12 South belongs to Arizona State. What's more is that the Sun Devils have an 8-1 conference record, best in the Pac-12. As a result, ASU will host Stanford in Tempe for the conference title game next week. 

That should give the Sun Devils an instant bump in the Vegas point spreads. It would be completely justified too, as ESPN's Pac-12 blog notes: 

Arizona State has won seven games in a row, including a blowout win over Washington and a thriller over UCLA. The Sun Devils' offense has been clicking, scoring at least 50 points four times during that seven-game win streak. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is spreading the ball around well and playing with a ton of confidence. 

And if star running back Marion Grice can't play with a leg injury? No worries, sophomore D.J. Foster was ready and able with 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 

Arizona State's defense is playing extra stingy too. Arizona running back and Heisman candidate Ka'Deem Carey got his numbers (31 carries, 157 yards), but he was also stopped multiple times on key third downs. Throw in four takeaways, and the Sun Devils had an answer for pretty much everything the Wildcats tried. 

In short, this team is finding its stride at the right time. That could be unfortunate news for Stanford. 

As B/R's Michael Felder writes, the Cardinal have the chance to become the class of the Pac-12 with another league title. It's also impossible to forget that Stanford housed Arizona State, 42-28, in September. Then again, teams change, and Arizona State has undoubtedly changed for the better. 

If the Sun Devils can take advantage of the home-field advantage against the Cardinal, they have an excellent opportunity to atone for that early-season embarrassment.

Potentially on their way to their first Rose Bowl in nearly 20 years, no less.