ASU Football's Six Most Important Games of 2013: Stanford Cardinal

Stanford may be ASU's toughest opponent in 2013. - Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

House of Sparky is breaking down ASU's six most important games of 2013. Up next, we break down ASU's September 21 meeting with Pac-12 North favorite Stanford.

The Arizona State football team leaves the friendly confines of Sun Devil Stadium for the first time on September 21 when the Sun Devils head to the Bay Area to face Pac-12 favorite Stanford. The Cardinal finished last season 12-2 and won the Pac-12 championship.

David Shaw's team returns plenty of talent to his 2013 squad, as Stanford was ranked No. 4 in the initial USA Today Coaches Poll. The Cardinal return 17 starters from a team that beat Wisconsin 20-14 in the 2013 Rose Bowl.

The major loss to the Stanford offense is running back Stepfan Taylor, who amassed over 4,000 rushing yards during his time at the school. Taylor rushed for over 1,000 yards in three straight seasons at Stanford and is now competing for playing time with the Arizona Cardinals.

On defense the biggest loss will be linebacker Chase Thomas, who is now playing for the New Orleans Saints. Quarterback Kevin Hogan emerged in the final five games of last season and Stanford returns one of the best offensive lines in the nation.

Previous Meeting - October 24th, 2009 (Stanford wins 33-14)

There was not much positive when the Sun Devils last played in Palo Alto. Arizona State was outscored 24-0 in the first half and gave up 490 yards to the Cardinal offense. Toby Gerhard rushed for 125 yards and Andrew Luck was an effective 17-28 for 236 yards.

In that 2009 meeting, the Arizona State offense punted six times and turned the ball over three times.

Why is it important?

Stanford, along with Oregon, is the class of the Pac-12. The Cardinal are picked by most to win the Pac-12 North and go on to play in the Rose Bowl. Even though this contest is early in the season, it means a lot. This will be the first major test of the season for Arizona State.

This is also the first road contest of the season for ASU, remember last season against Missouri the Sun Devils struggled down the stretch in their first road game.

This game is a potential Pac-12 championship game preview, and the Sun Devils need to show up and show that they can compete with the elite of the conference. Last year, Arizona State beat one Pac-12 team that finished with a winning record. They played one elite conference team, and it resulted in a beatdown on ESPN at the hands of Oregon.

If the Sun Devils fall in a similar way to Stanford it may be hard to regain momentum for upcoming games against USC and Notre Dame.

How winnable is this game?

This is probably the least winnable game on the Arizona State schedule this season. Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw have built Stanford into a national powerhouse full of NFL talent. The Cardinal return 10 starters on defense including a veteran defensive line and secondary.

Last season, Kevin Hogan went 5-0 as a starter including 4-0 against top 25 teams. He beat Oregon on the road and won a Rose Bowl. He and Stanford will be very tough to beat at home.

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