Arizona State begins conference play 23rd in the nation at 2-0, traveling to Northern California to square off with fifth ranked Stanford, the reigning Rose Bowl champions. Coach Todd Graham respects the Cardinal more than any team on the schedule, and rightfully so.
Despite lots of talent and opportunities, the Sun Devils haven't beaten a top ten team since 2002, going 0-for-18. Stanford has lost only one game at home since 2009, making the situation appear even bleaker.
But there are reasons of optimism; previous season outcomes with different players are now meaningless. In one quick year, Todd Graham transformed the Sun Devil fan base into believers instead of expecting some sort of self-implosion. Those days are slowly fading away, and the "lucky" victory over Wisconsin helps.
Enough with the jibber-jabber, it's time for the famous Haber's Hunches. Last week I went 2-1, as Taylor Kelly ruined my possible perfect game by failing to throw any touchdown passes. On the season, I sit at 4-2 overall heading into Pac-12 play.
First Hunch: Marion Grice gives ASU their best shot at pulling off the upset
Establishing the run against Stanford's dominant front seven? Good luck. Might as well go play the lottery while you're at it. After watching Army post 284 rushing yards against the Cardinal, the job at hand can be accomplished.
I know Army runs the triple-option, but the consistent downhill approach did slightly expose Stanford. If you don't succeed, try, try, try again. The Sun Devils need to embody that type of approach with Marion Grice.
Taylor Kelly didn't perform up to expectations against Wisconsin's below-average secondary. Obviously the receivers didn't give Kelly much wiggle room, but I still walked away expecting better. The task gets significantly tougher at Stanford, as the defensive line will apply more pressure and the coverage unit is above average. The combination of Kelly dodging bullets and trying to zip tight passes into small holes won't work out.
Grice can alleviate the pressure off Kelly by gaining about 3.5 yards per carry, which is very realistic. The beastly Stanford front seven, led by linebacker Shayne Skov and hybrid Trent Murphy, can't pin their ears back and rush if Grice methodically moves the chains.
For the ASU high-octane offense to be at its best, Grice normally ends up in pay dirt. Grice's six touchdowns are second best in the nation, as he singly-handedly provided the Sun Devils offense with 36 points of their 82 to date.
Throughout the country and Tempe, Grice has already become a trendy dark horse Heisman candidate, and he will need to back up those claims for ASU to win.
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Second Hunch: Stanford wins the battle of the trenches on offense and defense
I doubt Grice does enough to pull it out for the maroon and gold, mostly because of Stanford's dominant defensive line. Meanwhile, the Cardinal offensive line may be considered the best unit in the entire country. ASU overcame Wisconsin's top-notch strength last weekend, but Stanford's big men are second to none.
The right side of the Sun Devils' offensive line boasts two first-year starters in Tyler Sulka (right tackle) and Vi Teofilo (right guard). The offensive line has been solid, but when there have been slight issues, the talented yet inexperienced right side was in the midst of it.
All seven members of Stanford's front seven are at least juniors. The same core unit led the nation in sacks during the 2012 campaign. ASU left tackle Evan Finkenberg and center Kody Koebensky wont be afraid of the challenge, but every other battle doesn't look favorable.
The Stanford offensive line against the ASU defensive front could be closer to even, however it won't be. Between Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, and Chris Young, the trio has tallied no sacks so far. The lack of production has to be shocking and worrying to defensive coordinator Paul Randolph.
Some experts are beginning to say Sutton's weight increase wasn't "good weight" and it hurt him. I'm not ready to go there, but it's something to consider. Four of the five starting blockers up front on Stanford are seniors. 6-foot-7, 310-pound sophomore, Andrus Peat, is the lone outcast.
On the interior, nobody receives more recognition than All-American guard David Yankey. Sutton and Yankey will duke it out early and often. If Sutton couldn't impose his will against inferior opponents, I can't imagine him having an advantage over Yankey. The one thing going Sutton's way in this matchup is that he won't face nearly as many double teams, because Stanford feels Yankey can handle him.
The strength of the ASU defense resides on its defensive line. Stanford's ability to control the line of scrimmage and slow down Sutton, Jaxon Hood and more, will be bad news for Todd Graham.
Final Hunch: Two opposite tempos, but Stanford's will be on display more often
Sometimes I watch Stanford and think it's Sunday because of their NFL style of play. Conversely, ASU wants to go non-stop and score in bunches. Which tactic prevails?
Stanford will possess the rock for at least 35 minutes, which won't give Kelly and his weapons enough chances to score. Wisconsin broke off long runs against the Sun Devils, but Stanford probably will not. Instead, running backs Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and Ryan Hewitt are going to do it the old-fashioned way. Remember what our mom's used to always say: Slow and steady wins the race.
None of the Cardinal runners have elite speed, but all of them make up for it in power. Expect David Shaw's team to get gains of four, then seven, then three, etc. From there, Kevin Hogan makes the defense pay with precision play-action passing and underrated speed.
ASU will show flashes of its quick pace, yet flashes don't trump the majority. The Cardinal rarely participate in fast-tempo games, even causing Oregon to take a chill pill on occasion.