The Arizona State Sun Devils will be faced with their most trying of challenges Saturday when they head into Palo Alto to take on the No. 5 ranked Stanford Cardinal.
It's the second straight Saturday in which ASU will be facing a team with a higher ranking. But an upset of Stanford would send a reverberating message to the rest of the Pac-12 that this Sun Devil team is not to be reckoned with.
So what exactly are Arizona State's chances to pull off that feat? We asked our panel of writers that very question:
Question: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most likely), what are the odds that the Sun Devils upset Stanford this Saturday?
Cody Ulm: (2) The only thing keeping me from putting this at a one is the level of confidence ASU should be playing with after topping Wisconsin. While neither roster was exactly the same back in January, the Badgers did manage to hang with the Cardinal in last season's Rose Bowl. That, along with the fact that Wisconsin is similar style and mentality wise to Stanford, should take away from some of the intimidation factor.
But it's worth noting that the Sun Devils are still searching for that signature road win in the Todd Graham era. Outside of an emotionally-fueled Territorial Cup victory, the Sun Devils have been outscored 74-43 in their two road games against teams with winning records. Furthermore, Arizona State went 0-4 last year against Pac-12 opponents who finished with a winning conference record. So it's safe to say recent history isn't on the Sun Devils' side.
That being said, I do expect David Shaw and his players to leave their stadium being impressed with what Arizona State has to offer. In other words, don't expect a blowout. I just think if this game was played 100 times, ASU would be lucky to win 20 of them. Shaw just isn't the type of coach to allow a lesser opponent to stroll into Stanford Stadium and steal away the Cardinal's national championship hopes.
Ryan Bafaloukos: (4) I do not think Stanford is invincible. If Army can hang around with Stanford then Arizona State can hang around with Stanford.
The Sun Devils got a little preview of what the Cardinal will bring when they played Wisconsin this past weekend. Like Wisconsin, Stanford is big and physical up front and the Cardinal will try to run the ball down ASU's throat. With the exception of a few big plays, Arizona State handled the Badger running game well. The ASU running game needs to get going and take some pressure of Taylor Kelly, who threw six of his nine interceptions last season on the road. The offensive line is going to be key against Stanford, as the Cardinal will probably be the best defense ASU plays all season.
Nick Krueger: (6) The David Shaw era is alive and well at Stanford but this is not an Andrew Luck driven team anymore, it's Kevin Hogan's. The Sun Devils did not look sharp in the Wisconsin win but Stanford looked arguably worse against Army. The Cardinal were up 20-13 at halftime and only won by two scores against the service academy. If the Black Knights can put up 20 points, how many more can the Sun Devils high-flying offense put on the board?
Tyler Gaffney currently has 40 carries for 236 yards. That is nowhere close to the three-headed monster of a rushing attack the Badgers had. It is a road game but Palo Alto isn't the most hostile of environments and I don't see that phasing ASU. The one wide receiving threat is Ty Montgomery, there is not another wide out with over 100 yards receiving so far this year. However, Stanford is a program that has a lot of pride and tradition so the Cardinal will not lie down. On paper, ASU has Stanford beat in a few areas but the Cardinal have a lot of intangibles and are incredibly well-coached which is why my number lies at 60 percent.
Ben Haber: (2) Stanford has only lost once at home since 2009, and plenty quality opponents were unsuccessful. Between the Cardinal's talent and consistent production on their own turf, ASU would be shocking the world if they won. In 2012 alone, second ranked Oregon, 11th ranked Oregon State and 16th ranked UCLA also fell short. David Shaw's players protected their house against vastly better foes than the 2013 Sun Devils.
Stanford's team posses similar strengths to Wisconsin, yet the Pac-12 champions are even better at almost every aspect of football. Meanwhile, ASU barely got by the Badgers at home, and you can make a case that they should have lost. Taylor Kelly, Marion Grice and company will not see another defense close to as good as Stanford. It's hard to imagine the Cardinal's national title hopes blowing up at the expense of anyone besides Oregon.
Kerry Crowley: (3) Of the 12 games Arizona State has on its schedule, the Stanford matchup is the toughest. It's not just because of the Cardinal's No. 5 ranking, it's because of the style of football that a David Shaw coached team plays. Shaw preaches discipline, running the football, and executing a fundamentally sound game. Sound familiar? I thought so.
In my eyes, Arizona State just isn't on Stanford's level yet. That doesn't mean that the Sun Devils' don't have a chance at an upset. It means that Todd Graham's squad will have to play a nearly flawless game and force the Cardinal into making uncharacteristic mistakes. Saturday night was far from the Sun Devils' best effort and in the grand scheme of things, it might turn out to be their worst. They dropped passes, allowed outside runs to break free, and made critical errors on special teams. But remember, Stanford hasn't played its best football yet either, so a Sun Devil win would surprise me, but not shock me.