Well we made it. In just a few hours Arizona State will kick off at Sun Devil Stadium for the last time this season. There have been ups (Notre Dame) and downs (UCLA), but the Sun Devils are still in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title. But today they must take care of Washington State. Our staff take a look at what this game means and they will go about winning on a brisk November morning in Tempe.
Justin Emerson: Managing Editor (@J15Emerson)
Nick Krueger: Managing Editor (@NickPKrueger)
Jason Galvin: Columnist (@Jason_Galvin)
Ryan Bafaloukos: Staff writer (RyanBafo)
Shane Theodore: Staff writer (@shane_writes)
Connor Pelton: Staff writer (@ConnorPelton28)
The expectations for this team have changed. If UCLA and Arizona State both win out, the Sun Devils will miss the Pac-12 title game with a 10-2 record. Would you still consider that a successful season?
Emerson: It already has been. Flashback to the beginning of the season. Did anyone have the Sun Devils being this good? Leading the Pac-12 South for most of the season and being in the Playoff talk? If they lose the next two it will sting, but what coach Todd Graham has been able to do is truly incredible.
Krueger: Absolutely. This team was expected to potentially have four or five losses when the season started. If someone would have told this fan base that THIS team would be 10-2, they absolutely would have taken it. If you're shaking your head no then you're lying. Funny part of it is, Arizona State's resume may look more appealing if they don't get to the Pac-12 title game than if they do. A 10-2 team with two regular season losses may look better to a bowl committee than one which could get throttled by Oregon and fall to 10-3 while potentially having another letdown like the Holiday Bowl last season.
Galvin: This season is a success even if the Sun Devils lose out in the regular season, as long as they win the bowl game. Of course, beating Arizona is always a good thing. But this was a team expected to win no more than 8, maybe 9 games when the season started. Instead, they were a playoff contender seven days ago. Todd Graham for president.
Bafaloukos: I would consider this a successful season, I don't know if Todd Graham would consider it a successful season because of how close they were to achieving their end goals. I think at the start of the season everybody thought this would be a team that wins around eight games. They are likely to win 10 for the second straight year and that is a great accomplishment considering the turnover on defense.
Theodore: It's not as black and white as successful or a failure. I would consider it a successful season considering the expectations that I personally had for this team headed into the year. But Coach Graham is all about championships, and not reaching the level that they did last year as Pac-12 South Champions would have to be considered some sort of a failure to achieve what they set out to. So for fans and media, a 10-2 season and trip to the Alamo Bowl or some other mid-level bowl would be successful, but allowing ourselves to consider that success is to disregard what Coach Graham says is his definition of success.
Pelton: Absolutely. This team was on the playoff bubble in mid-November. I'm pretty sure that exceeded all of our expectations heading into the season. There were wins at USC and at Sun Devil Stadium against Utah and Notre Dame. It's been a great year.
Weaker opponent, expectations of a blowout; Why is today's game any different from last week?
Emerson: I refuse do believe that Arizona State "wasn't prepared" or "fell into a trap" or whatever the narrative was. I think the Sun Devils were a victim of a brutal Pac-12 conference and a place where it is hard to win. If you think they weren't focused for the Oregon State game, you're delusional. This
afternoon morning will not be the same. Plus it's at home.
Krueger: The bar for this season for the Sun Devils has been lowered so their isn't quite as much pressure but their is a fair amount. I'd say this team is more ticked off so they'll be playing with an edge and they'll also really want to win for these seniors too.
Galvin: Because it's at home? The expectations are a little lower now, too, thanks to that loss last week. The Oregon State game showed how vulnerable a young team can be when all of the cylinders aren't firing. This is a game the Sun Devils should win big, if anything because the expectations are lower, and Washington State has far less to play for than Oregon State did.
Bafaloukos: I think the fact that today is senior day will make it a bit more special for the team. It will be the final game at Sun Devil Stadium like Taylor Kelly, Jamil Douglas and Deantre Lewis. This will also be an entirely different game because of how Washington State plays. Expect it to be a long game with a lot of incompletions and stoppages of play. I also think you will see a lot empty seats today.
Theodore: Well, for starters, Oregon State is too good of a program that pulls in too many good recruits to be a 4-5 team and play as such. This team would be near the top of a couple other Power 5 conferences, it speaks to how good the Pac-12 is that the Beavers have had the season they have. Playing in Reser Stadium, where Oregon State twice beat No. 1 ranked USC teams, should have never been as easy a task as Arizona State fans thought it would be. However, this weekend's game should be just as easy as we think it'll be, as Washington State is nowhere near the program Oregon State is. An Arizona State loss would be an utter shock, something the loss last week in Corvallis wasn't.
Pelton: There are a lot of differences. The team is back home. It will be 70 degrees instead of 30. There is also not nearly as much pressure on the Sun Devils, and I think the team comes out loose as they try to send the seniors off with a win.
If Taylor Kelly struggles, will we see Mike Bercovici this week?
Emerson: Nah. Graham has made it this far and if he was going to make a change, he would have done it last week. This is Kelly's last game at Sun Devil Stadium and Graham will fall on his sword before he yanks his quarterback today.
Krueger: Ahhh, we're stirring the pot. Look, no matter what people say about senior day not mattering, it matters. This is Taylor Kelly's day and he needs to have his moment in the Tempe sun for what he has brought this program over the past three seasons. That being said, his Oregon State performance was sloppy, Graham has said perhaps he still isn't 100 percent so if this game is close in the second half I think this is the best chance to possibly see Bercovici again. I believe it would need to happen before the fourth quarter and Kelly would have to be performing at an Oregon State level or worse before Graham would even consider pulling him.
Galvin: No. Todd Graham needs to make that move if TK struggles, but I don't think he will. As I said in Matchup, it's pretty clear to me that Kelly is still hurt. But now that they've gone back to Kelly, they can't bench him again, unless it's for good. And that won't happen. It's too important to Graham and the coaches that Kelly get his shot at redemption in the bowl game.
Bafaloukos: No. Graham made his bed with Taylor Kelly and now he has to lay in it.
Theodore: I sure hope not. Bercovici will get his turn, but this is Kelly's team and he deserves to get to finish out his career as quarterback of the team he helped bring back to national prominence.
Pelton: I can see there being a scenario in which Bercovici is pressed into action. Say Washington State is up after three quarters, Kelly's performance has been abysmal, and he clearly isn't 100 percent health wise. At that point, I think you have to sit him for the rest of the day. But I do not think we reach that point. It's Senior Day and I think we see one of Kelly's best games of the year.
How would you rank this game in terms of importance in regards to how the secondary plays? In other words, because of Washington State's aerial attack, is this the most important game for the Arizona State secondary?
Emerson: I hear Washington State passes a lot. But this is also (at best) the sixth-best quarterback the Sun Devils have played this year. Yes, they're going to need to bat down passes and avoid receivers slipping behind them, maybe a bit more so than normal, but a few mistakes will be easy to toss behind you if you're winning by 20.
Krueger: I would say yes and qualify it with it's the most important in terms of stamina, but not necessarily skill. Luke Falk of Washington State might be a pretty easy quarterback to read, but legitimately sticking to your man knowing he could be targeted on any down makes it a lot more difficult to cover them every single time. The defensive line will need to effectively rush the quarterback too with more linebackers necessary in coverage of four and five wide receiver sets.
Galvin: I would argue Arizona is more important for the secondary. Washington State is going to throw, and everyone knows it. It's much easier to stop something when you know it's coming. The secondary just needs to stay disciplined in this game. The important one for them is a week away.
Bafaloukos: I think this is going to be a more important game for the defensive line and the pressure they can bring on Luke Falk. Washington State is going to get a lot of yards and they are going to put up points. The key is to limit big plays and tackle well. The defensive line has to bring some pressure and make Falk uncomfortable.
Theodore: Washington State has a solid passing attack, but that's only because they have absolutely no running attack and are forced to throw an absurd amount of times each game. As long as Graham doesn't get too clever and try to blitz Luke Falk every down, a simple 7-man dropback will be fine.
Pelton: This one is extremely important for the secondary. Everyone knows Washington State is going to throw on nearly every play. That just means there is more pressure on the guys to stop it. The group has done a terrific job ever since the UCLA game. You cannot afford another step back heading into Tucson, and possibly Santa Clara.
Give us your final score and one other prediction about the game.
Emerson: Arizona State 35, Washington State 17. Sun Devils score two defensive touchdowns.
Krueger: Arizona State: 45 Washington State: 28 but the game isn't as close as the scoreboard reads. ASU leads 28-7 at half and has 3 interceptions in the game.
Galvin: Sun Devils win, 44-27. Taylor Kelly doesn't look much better, but D.J. Foster and the defense do enough heavy lifting to make this a comfortable win.
Bafaloukos: Arizona State 45, Washington State 31. Taylor Kelly throws for four touchdowns and has his best game of the season.
Theodore: I learned from what happened with Mike Golic this past weekend that making bets on games can be a bad idea, but if Arizona State loses to Washington State I'd make my own Kim K picture. Now, you don't want that, so that's why I'm predicting a Sun Devil 52-24 win. Taylor Kelly bounces back and throws three touchdowns to go along with one rushing score.
Pelton: Arizona State - 35, Washington State - 27. The Sun Devils are up big at halftime but another lackadaisical second half effort keeps the Cougars close.