For Arizona State, a chance at revenge is also an opportunity to give the school its biggest bowl in nearly two decades.
Way back in late September, the Sun Devils, fresh off a wild win over Wisconsin, went into Palo Alto, Calif., and got dominated by Stanford in every facet of the game, needing a fourth-quarter comeback just to make the final score look respectable at 42-28.
Since that fairly embarrassing defeat, though, Todd Graham's squad has reeled off eight wins in its last nine and seven in a row, including a victory at the Rose Bowl against UCLA that assured the Sun Devils a chance at, well, the Rose Bowl.
Before they do that, however, they will have to find a way to solve Stanford. At times, Stanford has looked like the best team in the country, with wins over ASU and Oregon. At other times, like in its loss at Utah, it has looked painfully mediocre.
A spot in the Granddaddy of Them All is on the line. Let's take a look at everything you need to know for the Pac-12 Championship.
Date: Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013
Time: 7:45 p.m. ET
Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Spread: Arizona State (-3)
Well, it's pretty simple. The winner will go to the Rose Bowl, and the loser will end up in the Alamo or Holiday Bowl.
For Stanford, a win would secure the school's fourth BCS bowl and second Rose Bowl in a row. After Jim Harbaugh led the Cardinal to the Orange Bowl during the 2010 season, David Shaw took them to a Fiesta and Rose Bowl in his first two seasons. They beat Wisconsin in the Granddaddy of Them All last New Year's Day.
For Arizona State, a win would give the school its first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1996 season, when Jake Plummer and the Sun Devils lost to Ohio State.
This one features a tantalizing contrast of strengths.
Behind Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong, the Sun Devils feature a high-powered, explosive offense that is eighth in America with 42.2 points per contest.
The hard-nosed, physical Stanford squad, on the other hand, is elite defensively, giving up just 19.0 points per game (10th in the nation) and 4.6 yards per play (11th).
The Cardinal are especially stingy against the run (3.0 yards per carry allowed), and when you combine that with ASU running back Marion Grice (996 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns) likely being out with a leg injury, the Sun Devils will be forced to turn to the air.
Of course, with the way Kelly has been throwing it lately—499 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games—they should be content with that. Also, don't forget that Strong was essentially unstoppable the last time these two teams met, racking up 168 yards and a score on 12 receptions:
While the most thrilling part of this contest will be Arizona State's offense against Stanford's defense, the most important part will be Arizona State's defense against Stanford's offense.
And in that regard, the Cardinal have the advantage.
Tyler Gaffney is a workhorse capable of keeping the Sun Devils offense off the field, and Ty Montgomery is an explosive big-play threat in the receiving and return games. Against a Sun Devils defense that is giving up 5.2 yards per play, those two are in line for big days.
Moreover, ASU's defense (2.4 takeaways per game) will have a tough time forcing turnovers against a grind-it-out Stanford offense that gives up the ball just 1.4 times per contest.
This game won't resemble September's matchup. Arizona State is red hot, and Stanford isn't the same team away from The Farm.
But even in front of what will be a raucous crowd at Sun Devil Stadium, I'm going with the team that features more balance on both sides of the ball.
Stanford 34, Arizona State 31
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