Huge lead early against a big-time opponent, late drama and a season-defining win. Sound familiar?
Arizona State's 55-31 victory over Notre Dame Saturday afternoon bore a striking resemblance to last year's Pac-12 South-clinching win against UCLA on the road. This one though, was special.
"It is different because it's Notre Dame, that's being honest with you," coach Todd Graham said. "That was the best football team they've had in a long time.
Graham emphasized that as a program, the UCLA win was bigger, in that it sent the Sun Devils to their first Pac-12 Championship game. But the mystique and aura that surrounds Notre Dame- even Graham got caught up in it.
"I'm a fan of college football," Graham said. "If you're asking me personally, because I always try to answer honestly, that's the biggest win. It means more to me than anything that's happened since we've been here because of the fact of who that team is that we just beat."
Last year Arizona State took a 35-13 lead going into halftime, only to see advantage evaporate before making a defensive stand to win on the final drive 38-33.
Saturday the Sun Devils jumped out to 34-3 lead only to see the Fighting Irish score the next 28 points and claw back within three. This time, Arizona State didn't let the game stay within one possession, rattling off three touchdowns to win 55- 31, a score that doesn't indicate how close Arizona State was to losing.
"That's when big-time players and big-time teams step up," quarterback Taylor Kelly said. "That's what you do on a championship stage: You show up."
Last year it would have been next to impossible for Arizona State to make it to the national championship game. The BCS system just wasn't going to allow a one-loss Pac-12 team to go, especially when Florida State was undefeated and Auburn lost once. The Rose Bowl was the ultimate goal.
This year, it's not insane to see the Sun Devils in the playoff. Graham said it to Damarious Randall in the press room after the game: "One, two three, four more games until you're playing for a national championship."
Those four games left are by no means easy. If Arizona State doesn't beat Oregon State, Washington State and Arizona, it might not even get that fourth game.
But if it comes, and the Sun Devils go to the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 5 with only one loss, a win could see them as one of the final four teams standing. And the signature win against Notre Dame won't be forgotten.