ASU vs. Stanford: The national implications

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

If the Sun Devils pull off the upset, they could vault into the top 15 of the AP poll.

Arizona State takes its 2-0 record on the road this weekend as the Sun Devils will battle the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal in sunny Palo Alto on Saturday.

After a controversial win against Wisconsin, the Sun Devils make their first appearance in the AP top 25 in the Todd Graham era with the 23rd spot in the rankings.

Stanford began the preseason as the No. 4 team in the nation after a dominant run through the Pac-12 last season that culminated with a Rose Bowl victory. The Cardinal own the nation's second longest winning streak at 10 games which trails only Ohio State's 15-game streak.

The Cardinal are widely regarded as an innovative offensive team and coach David Shaw is considered one of the brightest minds in the entire sport. That doesn't mean the Cardinal are guaranteed a victory. The Washington Huskies pulled off a surprising early-season victory against Stanford last season and the Cardinal are still quite a ways from hitting their stride.

This week's matchup is the only college football game that features two ranked opponents and its early start time (4 p.m. MST) means that East Coast pollsters will be watching. Let's see how the outcome will impact the national rankings.

A Sun Devil Win

Defeating a top five team in the country is no easy feat. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, goliath is more susceptible early on in the season. If Arizona State knocks off Stanford, the Sun Devils have a chance to jump into the top 15 of the AP poll and may even sneak into the top 10.

With such a disappointing slate of games for week five, most of the top 15 teams in the country are playing lesser opponents and have a better chance of keeping their spot. If the Sun Devils played an undefeated Cardinal squad later in the season, a victory would almost certainly put them in consideration for a spot in the top 10. This week, a spot in the top 15 is more likely because the Cardinal are still ranked fifth based off of their preseason slot and two wins against overmatched opponents.

When an unranked Miami squad took down previously No. 12 Florida in week two, the Hurricanes jumped up to No. 15. Even though Stanford is No. 5, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Sun Devils would crack the top 10. Arizona State could soar as high as eighth or ninth, but a victory would likely push the Sun Devils up to a spot in between 12 and 14.

The last time the Sun Devils broke into the top 15 was 2008 before a 2-0 Dennis Erickson squad lost to UNLV in overtime.

A Cardinal Win

Because the Cardinal sit so high in the polls, they don't have much room to rise. A win over a ranked squad is always good in the eyes of the pollsters, but defeating Arizona State shouldn't be enough for Stanford to climb into the top three.

If the Cardinal put a 42-point margin of victory up, some opinions might change. The Sun Devils would definitely disappear from the rankings and the Cardinal could even garner some No. 2 votes. It's still difficult to assume that a margin of victory like that would put the Cardinal in consideration for No. 1 votes because Alabama is considered so far ahead of the field.

A Sun Devil Loss

Unless Arizona State keeps it close and loses by four or less, the Sun Devil will likely drop out of the national rankings with a loss. Teams ranked between slots 22 and 25 usually drop from the polls regardless of who their loss comes against.

If Arizona State puts on an incredible offensive or defensive display and loses a heart-breaker, it's not impossible to envision the Sun Devils holding their spot or even moving up a place or two in the AP poll. The Cardinal are among the most respected teams in the country and any team that can hang for a full 60 minutes deserves national recognition.

A close game at halftime wouldn't be enough to keep Arizona State ranked. Army played the Cardinal tight in the first half and many teams will because Stanford isn't going to put up 60 points like Oregon. To earn the respect of the voters, it will take a lot of head-turning and a narrow margin of defeat.

A Cardinal Loss

While Stanford is highly thought of, there are some pollsters who don't include Stanford in their top 10. A loss to Arizona State would probably relegate the Cardinal to the slot right behind Arizona State on most ballots or even a few slots ahead of the Sun Devils for voters who saw this loss as a fluke.

Each year teams lose to opponents ranked well below them and the victors don't overtake the team it defeated in the AP poll. The discrepancy between Arizona State and Stanford is close enough that the Sun Devils would likely jump a spot or two ahead of the Cardinal. So if the Sun Devils sneak into the 11th or 12th slot, the Cardinal would fall anywhere between 12 and 15 for most voters.

If Stanford loses by a significant margin, perhaps two touchdowns or more, all bets are off. Some voters may remove the Cardinal from their ballots altogether, but it's more likely that Stanford would drop to a spot between 17 and 20.

The Week Four AP Top 25

Rank Team Record Votes Previous
1 Alabama (59) 2-0 1,499 1
2 Oregon (1) 3-0 1,413 2
3 Clemson 2-0 1,347 3
4 Ohio State 3-0 1,330 4
5 Stanford 2-0 1,241 5
6 LSU 3-0 1,134 8
7 Louisville 3-0 1,092 7
8 Florida State 2-0 1,058 10
9 Georgia 1-1 1,051 9
10 Texas A&M 2-1 1,001 6
11 Oklahoma State 3-0 848 12
12 South Carolina 2-1 821 13
13 UCLA 2-0 757 16
14 Oklahoma 3-0 692 14
15 Michigan 3-0 672 11
16 Miami (FL) 2-0 641 15
17 Washington 2-0 496 19
18 Northwestern 3-0 487 17
19 Florida 1-1 412 18
20 Baylor 2-0 355 22
21 Mississippi 3-0 300 25
22 Notre Dame 2-1 277 21
23 Arizona State 2-0 229 NR
24 Wisconsin 2-1 87 20
25 Texas Tech 3-0 60 NR
Others Receiving Votes: Michigan State 59, Fresno State 27, UCF25, Northern Illinois 24, Georgia Tech 17, Nebraska 15, Arizona 11, Auburn 9, Boise State 4, Virginia Tech 3, TCU 3, Arkansas 2, Navy 1
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