It's game day, which means it's time for our weekly roundtable. Here are our writers' takes on a few questions lingering about today's game.
How much will the loss of Jaxon Hood affect the Sun Devils?
Emerson: Hood has not been the dynamic playmaker he was expected to be, but he's one of the few that started against Notre Dame last year. I think they've all done their homework on the team and everyone will be prepared, but the experience factor Hood brings could potentially be a big loss.
Krueger: The run defense will certainly not be as effective. I am confident in the rest of the rotation of Mo and Viliami Latu as well as Smallwood and Dayries. There is a science to a rotation though, and if the Sun Devils can't get the right personnel on the field in certain situations then it could spell disaster.
Galvin: Well, he's the leader of the defensive line and plays an important position, so it certainly won't help. But Hood has actually been rather mediocre since his freshman season. He's a good player, but not irreplaceable. I'd be much more concerned if Salamo Fiso or D.J. Calhoun were missing this one.
Bafaloukos: I tend to agree with Jason that his absence will not be missed too much. The fact is Hood has just 10 tackles on the season and he has as many sacks as I do. A loss of Marcus Hardison or Salamo Fiso would have a much larger impact on the game.
Theodore: Physically the Sun Devils won't be losing much as Mo Latu more than makes up for the gap Hood leaves in the middle, but where Hood will be missed most in his game experience. He's one of the leaders on this young defense, with two years of high-level performance under his belt. Hood's no star but he's a serviceable player whose head is more important to the Sun Devils than his ability.
Pelton: The loss of Hood is what scares me the most about this game. Latu and Smallwood are both serviceable in the front seven, but the rushing defense will definitely take a hit. Just how big a loss it is, I don't think we'll know that until the game comes to a close.
How much do you buy into the "Navy Curse?"
Emerson: I think it's real. Teams get beat up and now Notre Dame has to fly cross-country for a game against a top-10 team. It's not going to be a huge tangible advantage, but the Sun Devils could use any edge they can get.
Krueger: Well the statistics are certainly there and the Midshipmen tackle quite violently, but part of my mentality also says it doesn't exist. While it is an interesting trend to look at and trying to prepare for a team that doesn't run the triple option the following week can be difficult, a lot of me says it's a fluke. If a team is going to win a game because they're the better team, then that's what is going to happen. It is a long stretch of time, but the sample size of teams is just too small for me to believe it's real at the moment.
Galvin: I don't know about the Navy Curse, but I'll buy into the idea that teams are susceptible to losing after playing a physical team and suffering a rash of injuries. That's exactly the case for Notre Dame. Navy does two things well: they hit you hard and they never quit. Those things add up over 60 minutes of football, and the Irish certainly have a poor track record following those games.
Bafaloukos: I was going to actually put a lot of stock in the "Navy Curse" but then I went back and looked at Utah's schedule and found out that teams this season are 1-5 after playing Utah. So while you can say that Notre dame does not play well after playing Navy, the only team this year to pull out a victory over playing Utah was USC over Washington State.
Theodore: The only curse about playing Navy is having to face that damned triple option offense. But if Arizona State wins, it won't be because Notre Dame played Navy the week beforehand, let's not be silly.
Pelton: It's interesting to look at and talk about, sure, but it is tough for me to fully buy into it. If anything, I think we should be more worried about the Utah curse, like Ryan brought up.
Where do you rank this game in terms of importance compared to all other games in the Todd Graham era?
Emerson: At best, third. Last year's Pac-12 title game was by far the biggest, and the first game against Arizona really got him into Arizona State fans' good graces. This is important, but I find it hard to see the Sun Devils winning out and going to the Playoff. The remaining three Pac-12 games are all more vital.
Krueger: While it has national implications, the Sun Devils haven't won or lost anything in the Pac-12 if they lose this game. For this reason I'm putting it third behind the Pac-12 title game and the de-facto Pac-12 South title game against UCLA last year. Trophies and rights to move on to other places were on the line then. That's not the case necessarily this time around. The only thing outside of more prominence for the program is a move up in the rankings.
Galvin: I said it earlier this week, but we've officially entered a stage where every game is the most important. A win against the Irish would catapult Arizona State ahead of some of the SEC programs in front of them, and possibly Baylor and TCU, too. Suddenly, the Sun Devils would be considered a legit threat to enter the college football playoff and win the Pac-12.
Bafaloukos: Again, I agree with Jason that every game is important. Say Arizona State goes out and beats Notre Dame and then loses to Oregon State next week. It essentially washes away what they did by beating Notre Dame. The fact is, Arizona State controls its own destiny to play for a national title. However, in the end all the games count the same on your W-L record. You could beat Notre Dame by 50, but if you lose to Washington State at home in two weeks, nobody will care.
Theodore: The games just keep getting more important, which is a sign he's doing well. But this is a do-or-die game for the playoff, so if his measure of success is winning a national championship, then the Notre Dame game will be a big part in whether or not that goal is achieved. But Graham's not looking at it in the big picture and his ability to not care about the importance of one game versus another is what makes him one heck of a coach.
Pelton: Definitely in the top four, and if it was a league game at this point in the season, it might be my top overall pick. But I think you have to look at both of the Stanford games last year, and the one against Oregon on a Thursday night in Graham's first year for games that carried more importance. I think this game gets more attention right now since it is a de facto elimination game for the inaugural College Football Playoff. But no matter the outcome today, there will be three, maybe even four games left to play with Pac-12 title implications on the line.
Is this the game that Taylor Kelly gets back to his old self?
Emerson: No idea. He certainly needs to in order for the team to be successful, and if he's not Mike Bercovici better be ready to go. You can't worry about Kelly's hurt feelings if he isn't getting the job done.
Krueger: I still don't think he will be himself, but it will be the closest he has come to doing so. I see Kelly with at least 250 yards passing and 2 TD in this game. He found some success against Notre Dame last season, I think he can do so again. His first two games back have been against great defenses, Saturday lends itself to more of an opportunity to really try and open up the field and throw the ball.
Galvin: If it's not, and Graham refuses to bench Kelly, this will be an ugly game for Arizona State fans. Kelly has to get back to some resemblance of his old self, and I believe he will. The big question remains what will happen the next time Kelly gets rolled up on or folded over? Can his foot withstand it? Those are the major questions. Kelly has to at least be mobile in this game. Pocket passer Kelly is not nearly as effective as play action, on the move Kelly, and D.J. Foster isn't the same back when defenses know he's keeping the ball on every mesh play.
Bafaloukos: On paper, this is the worst defense Kelly has played in his return from injury. Notre Dame only has 15 sacks on the season and they just lost their leading tackler and defensive signal caller. Last season, Notre Dame could not contain Jaelen Strong and Arizona State put up 34 points. The case can be made this year's Sun Devil offense is better and the Notre Dame defense is worse, Kelly should have a good day. However, I am tired of Kelly taking the blame when the offensive line has surrendered 11 sacks the past two weeks.
Theodore: It better be if Arizona State wants to win. Kelly had spurts of success in the Washington and Utah games but the sporadic play has to cease if the Sun Devils are going to knock off the Irish. I think he'll take a big step towards getting back to where he was pre-injury, with the play of D.J. Foster being a large influence to that.
Pelton: Sure, why not? Tough to predict something like that, but this seems like as good a time as ever for Kelly to return to last year's form. You look at teams like North Carolina and Navy that both put up nearly 40 on Notre Dame and think there's no reason for Kelly and the Sun Devils to do the same.
Give us your score prediction and one other prediction about the game.
Emerson: Whoever has the ball last will win the game on the final drive. And because I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, I'll say it's Notre Dame, 35-31.
Krueger: Arizona State: 41 Notre Dame: 35 Jaelen Strong has at least 2 touchdowns and 150 yards receiving.
Galvin: 30-20 Arizona State. The Sun Devils have a double digit lead at halftime.
Bafaloukos: I am going to say Arizona State wins 31-28 and the Sun Devils collect at least three turnovers.
Theodore: I've consistently been fairly pessimistic about the Sun Devils this season but I'm feeling the mojo, so why not pick them to win 27-24. Jaelen Strong catches two touchdowns, D.J. Foster runs for one.
Pelton: Arizona State: 35 Notre Dame: 31. Arizona State jumps out to a big lead early and the game is never as close as the final score indicates.