Okay who honestly believed that back in 2007, when Arizona State and Notre Dame scheduled a two-game slate for 2013-14, Arizona State would enter both games as the higher ranked team? I doubt many Sun Devil fans did, and although the 12-year-old me wasn't following Arizona State football, I probably wouldn't have pictured this Saturday's matchup in Tempe including a Sun Devil team ranked No. 9 in the nation.
But that's just one of many things that, just a few years ago, were a hard thing to picture. The Pac-12 South title last season followed by continued national relevance this season are measures of success that not many Sun Devil faithful would have pictured when Todd Graham took over as head coach.
While Arizona State is in the midst of becoming a perennial national contender who eventually won't get mixed up with Arizona nearly every time the team is on television (cough cough, ESPN), the Fighting Irish are the definition of a canonical football program. The prowess and national reach that Notre Dame has enjoyed over its program's existence is remarkable, although the school struggled in the late 2000s, before Brian Kelly came aboard as coach.
The Irish are experiencing just as much success as the Sun Devils are this season, but the success in South Bend has been met with just as much frustration. While Arizona State's wins over USC and Stanford were widely celebrated and largely unexpected, Notre Dame's season has been defined by its one loss at Florida State. The Irish scored what they thought would be a game-winning touchdown, just to have a penalty called on an Irish pick wipe it away.
On Saturday, both team will be facing a do-or-die game. Each with one loss to ranked teams, the Irish and Sun Devils are in control of their destinies, but whichever team walks out of Sun Devil Stadium with its second loss of the season will have removed itself from the conversation for the inaugural College Football Playoff.
The Cynical Sun Devil's Worst Case Scenario
Arriving at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday, Todd Graham and his assistant coaches run through one final game plan overview before taking the field with their team for warmups. Graham, who watches every opponent's previous games in his film study each week, remembers the end of the Notre Dame-Florida State game and how the Irish lost. "We must stop the pick play," Graham declares.
Later, with the clock winding down of a 21-20 game that the Sun Devils are leading, the Fighting Irish are driving deep in Arizona State territory with a chance to win the game. Irish head coach Kelly calls a pick play, hoping that his players do a better job of making it look like they're running routes instead of blocking. Remembering what the coaches emphasized before the game, Sun Devil cornerback Lloyd Carrington doesn't allow the Notre Dame receiver to block him. Rather, Carrington spots the wide receiver who is meant to receive the pass and defends him to perfection. The ball is too high for Carrington to intercept but he swipes at it and bats it into the arms of safety Damarious Randall to clinch a monumental win. Except there's a penalty flag on the field. Carrington is called for pass interference, allowing Notre Dame to kick a game-winning field goal and reversing the luck of the Irish.