Since Todd Graham took over the ASU football program, he has aspired for nothing less than Pac-12 Championships. Of course, that feeling is nothing new to Wisconsin, the reigning Big Ten title holders. On Saturday, the two programs clash on national television and the Sun Devils are aiming to make a large statement.
Can ASU finally live up to the hype and beat an impressive opponent? Can Wisconsin prove they should remain among the Big-10 elite alongside Ohio State and Michigan? For both teams to accomplish their goals, three players on each side may hold their fate.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Taylor Kelly, ASU quarterback
Last year, when Kelly succeeded, so did the Sun Devils. The script won't look much different in 2013. In ASU's 55-0 victory over Sacramento State, Kelly threw for 300 yards and five touchdowns. Wisconsin's stout defense will be a tough test but an inexperienced secondary should grant Kelly with plenty of opportunities.
The back half of the Badgers' defense is comprised of one senior and four freshman. Only one starting member of the Wisconsin secondary has faced anyone as talented as Kelly. ASU's high octane offense, week two chances and Rose Bowl hopes depend solely on Kelly's ability to produce at an elite level.
Tyler Sulka, ASU right tackle
Sulka won the starting job at right tackle in camp, and his play could decide the outcome of this matchup against Wisconsin. Sulka allowed one sack in his debut and the competition gets much tougher in week two.
The blindside of Kelly isn't usually an issue thanks to reliable senior Evan Finkenberg. But if Sulka doesn't win the battles in the trenches, Kelly won't even get shots at the Badgers secondary. The redshirt junior should hold his own in run blocking so it's really going to come down to whether he can keep Kelly upright.
Will Sutton, ASU defensive lineman
Wisconsin prefers to play old school, ground and pound football, which has caused problems for ASU in the past. Stopping the run was coach Graham's main defensive focus all off-season, and now we'll see if it paid off. The All-American must clog the lanes to limit the Badgers bruising running attack. Sutton obviously needs help from the entire unit, but his ability to blow up plays needs to be the pave the way.
After Sutton's dominant 2012 campaign, he bulked up to 301 pounds to improve his ability to stop the run while enhancing his NFL value. Even with the additional weight, Sutton seems to be even faster than last season. Opponents will always have eyes on No. 90 but Arizona State is still hoping he manages to find his way into the backfield.
James White, Wisconsin running back
Monte Ball, one of the nation's premier running backs, was ahead of James White on the Wisconsin 2012 depth chart. Playing behind Ball, White still managed to collect 806 yards and twelve rushing touchdowns. White now shares the backfield with Melvin Gordon but White is undoubtedly the head honcho.
Coach Graham believes White is Wisconsin's best overall players and the statistics validate his opinion. If White doesn't move the sticks consistently, the Badgers offense isn't nearly as potent. Even in the passing attack, play action has become quarterback Joel Stave's best option. White against ASU's run defense, which allowed 182.8 yards per contest, has an ideal matchup to excel.
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin wide receiver
Wisconsin lacks numerous big play threats on the outside but Abbrederis does posses the unique trait. Abbrederis's 10 grabs on the season are double the amount of any fellow wide receiver. The chemistry between him and Stave is obviously there. Abbrederis will likely be matched up against Osahon Irabor, ASU's premier cover corner. The battles between Abbrederis and Irabor are crucial for Wisconsin if the Badgers are to have any semblance of offensive balance.
The Badgers are going to become too one dimensional if Abbrederis can't get his. The former walk on is the key to Wisconsin's big-play ability.
Dezmen Southward, Wisconsin strong safety
Dezmen Southward's is the lone certainty in a secondary shrouded in question marks. The senior must place his inexperienced secondary mates in the right position to limit the big plays. The Badgers historically struggle on the west coast against fast tempo offense and that's precisely what the Sun Devils under Mike Norvell's tutelage.
The freshman look up to Southward, who earned honorable mention All-Big Ten team in 2012. New Badgers coach, Garry Anderson, is still figuring out his team. But one thing is undeniable, Anderson knows Southward presents the team with the best opportunity to limit the bleeding from big plays.