The Rose Bowl is 60 minutes away, and there's only two contenders left to earn the Pac-12's automatic berth. The Stanford Cardinal and the Arizona State Sun Devils will duke it out in the Pac-12 Championship game at Sun Devil Stadium for the right to play in Pasadena on New Year's Day.
On Sept. 21, the Stanford Cardinal jumped out to a 29-0 halftime lead en route to a 42-28 victory against Arizona State. This time around, the game will be played in Tempe where the Sun Devils are 7-0 this season. Who has the upper hand? We asked our writers for their predictions:
Kerry Crowley: Stanford 30, Arizona State 24
It's the holiday season and there would be no better gift for Sun Devil fans than a trip to the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. This Arizona State team has given us every reason to believe that the Sun Devils are capable of winning the Pac-12 Championship, and that's why there's so much hope in Tempe nowadays. Watching as students gather at Camp Fargo for better seats and seeing alumni take to social media to talk about their stories of the '87 and '97 Rose Bowls has made this week a joy for the staff at House of Sparky.
But with all of that being said, I think the Sun Devils might be another year or two from making the trek out to Pasadena. I was at the Arizona State-Stanford game back in September and I've never seen a team I thought so highly of thoroughly dominated quite like the Sun Devils were in the first meeting between these two schools. I think that Todd Graham and his staff have done an outstanding job in progressing this team to its current state, but I still don't think the Sun Devils will beat the Cardinal. Stanford is the class of the Pac-12 and with offensive and defensive fronts that can out-physical and out-man any opponent it faces, I see the Cardinal taking this game by a narrow margin.
Bold Prediction: The Sun Devils have a lead at some point during the fourth quarter.
Cory Williams: Stanford 27, Arizona State 31
I already gave my prediction in the Bettor's Guide yesterday, but I will reiterate: Arizona State is an excellent home team and the home crowd will make the difference on Saturday.
It's true that the Sun Devils played a very bad first half against the Cardinal in September, but a lot has changed since then. The team has matured and grown; issues that plagued ASU have been rectified. We have seen a mature, experienced team over the past several weeks, pulling out gutsy wins against Utah and UCLA while crushing the rest of their opposition.
With all that said, Stanford is a cut above the rest of the Pac-12, and the Sun Devils must execute to perfection to have that opportunity to go to Pasadena on New Year's Day. Call me optimistic, but I think the Devils will defeat the Cardinal by a very close margin.
Bold Prediction: Either ASU's special teams or defense will put points on the board.
Nick Krueger: Stanford 38, Arizona State 31
Stanford's physicality is what worries me the most. The ASU front four can only do so much when the Cardinal decide to put eight men on the line and run it down their throat. No one in the Pac-12 enforces a slow, methodical tempo quite like Stanford and David Shaw can.
Now this will be a different kind of game, no doubt about it. Todd Graham has improved this team a lot since week three. I just can't seem to get over the fact that this is Stanford we're talking about here. The Sun Devils have a lot of weapons and they are disciplined when it comes to penalties but even on the road, there is something to be said about the Cardinal having been in this position before. Nothing outweighs experience and although ASU may be more talented, nothing helps more in the brightest lights than past experience.
The Sun Devils have to play a flawless, completely mistake-free four quarters of football and I just don't see that happening against a team like Stanford. I would like to think the Sun Devils will reach the mountaintop but anything worth doing doesn't come easy and I don't think this is the year for ASU.
Bold prediction: Arizona State has a halftime lead of 10 points or more.
Cody Ulm: Stanford 40, Arizona State 34
There's no doubting that when Arizona State has the luxury of playing at home, the Sun Devils are an entirely different beast. But there's also no doubting that Stanford is built to beat Arizona State, especially when Marion Grice is out of the picture.
The Sun Devils only legitimately struggled in three games this season: at Stanford, against Notre Dame and at Utah. The common denominator between those teams? Their physicality. And physicality is what knocks a rhythm team like Arizona State out of its comfort zone. On Saturday, I expect Stanford to knock the Sun Devils out of their rhythm when it matters most. Arizona State should jump out to a relatively quick lead but I just can't see the offense maintaining success deep into the game, especially considering the Devils have came out flat in the third quarter as of late.
For as much as I adore DJ Foster's skillset, he just isn't built to beat a stout front seven such as Stanford's. And after seeing how Arizona State's offense line was manhandled against the aforementioned three teams, I have a hard time believing they'll help Foster's cause much Saturday. The only way you can combat physicality is with physicality and that's certainly not Arizona State's strength. Arizona State will come out firing but the third and longs will pile up at a most precarious time. I still expect the Sun Devils to produce a performance that their fan's will be proud of. I just can't give the the W with Stanford's ability to control the trenches and kill the clock.
Bold Prediction: Arizona State will average under 2.5 yards per carry.
Ben Haber: Stanford 24, Arizona State 31
Home field advantage, check. Talent advantage, check. Quarterback advantage, check. Arizona State owns all three categories, although the talent conversation can go either way. The Sun Devils are more well=rounded than the Cardinal, which led me to the prediction.
As I said in Haber's Hunches, the Arizona State offense and Stanford defense cancel each other out. However, the Arizona State defense is a solid unit that continues to be on the rise. The Stanford offense is slightly above average and seems to be on the decline.
Regardless of the minor tactical strengths and weaknesses, the game should come down to the wire. When that's the case, quarterbacks usually decide the outcome. Taylor Kelly is the obvious pick over Kevin Hogan and there's no debate about it.
Since the beginning of the season, the atmosphere surrounding the Arizona State football program felt alive, thanks mainly to Todd Graham. The Arizona State objective was to end the journey in Pasadena, Calif. for the Rose Bowl, and it will become reality after Saturday night.
Bold Prediction: Chris Coyle accumulates at least 100 yards and one touchdown