So far in 2013, our staff has had no problem predicting Arizona State football games correctly.
We all unanimously agreed that the Sun Devils would top Wisconsin (although no one saw the referees falling asleep at the wheel). We all knew that Arizona State didn't stand a chance against Stanford. And while none of our writers had the Sun Devils dropping 62, we all still predicted ASU would beat the Trojans by double-digits.
But for the first time this season, we're actually divided this week with Arizona State heading to Dallas to take on Notre Dame. Yes, you read that correctly. One of our writers sees the Sun Devils falling in Jerry's World:
Kerry Crowley: Arizona State 45, Notre Dame 31
After witnessing a 62-41 game last week, I can't help but predict a much higher final score this week. It's become increasingly clear that this Arizona State offense has the potential to be special. I'm more impressed by Taylor Kelly every week he takes the field and Marion Grice has an unparalleled knack for finding the end zone. And when you throw in Jaelen Strong, Chris Coyle and D.J. Foster in the receiving game and I see a theme emerging. Notre Dame couldn't stop Michigan's weapons and Oklahoma gave the Fighting Irish trouble, so how in the world will they be able to stop Arizona State's attack?
I would not be surprised if the Sun Devils lost this game. If they do, it won't be because Todd Graham's squad lacks talent. I believe Arizona State is the more talented team, but Notre Dame has experience playing in big games on a national stage. Still, I think Graham is the type of coach that won't let his team succumb to the "big game syndrome." Graham has leaders in Kelly, Alden Darby and Osahon Irabor who will have this team ready to fire on all cylinders, and I expect a statement victory from Arizona State. Bold Prediction: Taylor Kelly throws for 400 yards for the first time in his career.
Ryan Bafaloukos: Notre Dame 31, Arizona State 24
On paper the Sun Devils are the better team. They have the better quarterback and the better skill position players on offense. Notre Dame lost a lot off of that 2012 team that played for a national championship. They are still looking for an identity on offense and their defense has been inconsistent all season.
I agree with Kerry in that Taylor Kelly continues to improve and he looked fantastic last week. However, we have seen in the past Kelly struggle away from Sun Devil Stadium against good football teams. He has thrown six interceptions in his last four games away from SDS and we saw him make some poor decisions in that first half against Stanford. Also Kerry, you say that Graham won't let his team succumb to "big game syndrome," however against Stanford in a "big game" Arizona State fell behind 29-0.
I think the Sun Devils come out a little starstruck playing Notre Dame in Jerry's World. I think they will fall behind early before coming back and taking the lead in the final quarter. In their past 20 victories, only three were by seven points or less. Arizona State struggles in close games, we saw them struggle against Wisconsin in the final minutes and I think they will struggle again to close out Notre Dame. I think the Fighting Irish win a game decided by single digits in Dallas. Bold Prediction: Tommy Rees will throw for three touchdowns.
Ben Haber: Arizona State 45, Notre Dame 31
Both of these teams present glaring mismatches for the team in the other corner. Ultimately, I think Arizona State's advantages will prevail. Notre Dame has an average pass defense at best and Taylor Kelly will expose the questionable secondary. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish have three talented running backs, headlined by George Atkinson III. And as we all know, the Sun Devil defense has looked inept and pathetic against the run.
Don't look now, but if Kelly continues to perform at or near this level, he will leave Tempe as one of the greatest quarterbacks in school history. On the other side, Brian Kelly turns to an unreliable signal caller in Tommy Rees. He may have four years of experience but Rees still makes freshman-esque mistakes via costly turnovers regularly. Rees easily gets flustered against heavy pass rush. Will Sutton and Carl Bradford will be his worst nightmare. Self-inflicted wounds will be Notre Dame's demise even though they'll move the ball.
The Sun Devils offense may be the toughest test the Fighting Irish have seen. It's very difficult to keep Mike Norvell's unit out of the thirties, and Notre Dame doesn't have the fire power to keep up. The game will be competitive in the first half, but I believe ASU comes out strong in the third quarter again and coasts from there. Bold Prediction: Marion Grice scores only one touchdown, well below his season average.
Cody Ulm: Arizona State 42, Notre Dame 27
In the offseason, I pegged Stanford and Notre dame as the two losses in the Arizona State's killer four-game stretch. Now, I'm going to be pretty damn shocked if they manage to blow this one. If the Sun Devils lose, it will be because they play uncomfortable and starstruck, like Ryan predicted. Arizona State's style of play should create matchup issues for Notre Dame and the Sun Devils also own the edge in the talent department. I do see Notre's Dame defense coming through with an inspired performance but ultimately, ASU's tempo will be the deciding factor. Much like what happened with USC, the Irish will begin to crumble once the three-and-outs and turnovers inevitably pile up with a quarterback like Tommy Rees.
Even with all the yards that George Atkinson III and Amir Carlisle should accumulate, I don't see Notre Dame consistently sustaining drives. Look for the Devils to get the big stops when they need them with newly reinstated SPUR linebacker Chris Young paving the way. Much like last Saturday's game, this one will be close in the first half as these teams feel each other out. The second half will be an entirely different game. Bold prediction: Chris Young will register three tackles for loss and Arizona State will double Notre Dame's scoring production in the second half.