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Pac-12 Title Game Preview: Stanford vs. Arizona State


It’s safe to say nearly no one predicted that the Arizona State Sun Devils (10-2, 8-1) would be playing in – much less hosting – the 2013 Pac-12 Championship game, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the South division champions are any less deserving than the North winner, the Stanford Cardinal (10-2, 7-2), who will aim to win their second straight conference title today.

What is even more surprising than ASU’s mere presence in the conference title game may be that the Sun Devils are actually favored against the highly-touted Cardinal. Most odds makers like the Devils by three points today, despite the fact that Arizona State’s lone conference defeat this season came at the hands of the Cardinal back on Sept. 21.

Stanford jumped out to a 29-0 halftime lead in the teams’ first meeting this season, eventually winning by a final score of 42-28. However, the Sun Devils have improved drastically since then, winning eight out of their last nine games. Arizona State now comes into the Pac-12 finale with an offense that has scored more than 43 points per game and a perfect 7-0 mark at Sun Devil Stadium this season.

“I can tell you this: Our guys are determined, and we need everyone in these seats,” Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said, according to ESPN.com. “We need to be loud and proud and make it a great home-field advantage. Our guys want to win this and go to the Rose Bowl.”

Even with a rowdy home crowd and a high-powered offensive attack, exacting revenge on Stanford won’t be easy for ASU today. The Cardinal have dominated the line of scrimmage against almost every team they’ve faced this season – including the mighty Oregon Ducks – and come into today’s Pac-12 title game with an offense that rushes for more than 200 yards per game. More importantly, and perhaps more impressively, the Cardinal have only allowed 19 points per game (13th in FBS) this season.

Conversely, Arizona State has dominated its foes through the air – passing for 285.4 yards per game (25th in FBS) – but to be successful against Stanford, its offense will likely need to find a balance between the run and the pass, a balance that it didn’t have in the first meeting with the Cardinal after ASU fell behind early.

Of course, that will be easier said than done against a Stanford front seven that has allowed 516 fewer rushing yards than the second best run defense in the conference, while limiting opposing rushers to 2.9 yards per carry this season.

The Sun Devils certainly play well at home, but the Cardinal always play well, especially in games on the biggest stages. Stanford’s recent experience in conference championship games should play a factor today and if the game is close near the end – which it likely will be – the Cardinal should have the edge.

Look for Stanford to cover +3 today as it wins another Pac-12 title.

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