- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Stanford whipped Arizona State all sorts of ways on Sept. 21. It blew away the Sun Devils at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. It overwhelmed them on special teams. It looked like such a finely oiled machine that it cleared its bench in the fourth quarter, which allowed for a furious Arizona State rally that made the final score deceivingly close at 42-28.
The Cardinal players know they pushed around the Sun Devils. So you'd think there would be some danger of them being at least a little overconfident when they square off in Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday in the Pac-12 championship game with a Rose Bowl berth on the line.
"Not at all," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Our guys are smart. You put the film on, and you watch these guys run by people. You watch them dominate games. You watch them dominate teams that we struggled with. You put two game films on, you immediately have a lot of respect for these guys."
That's reasonable. It's Arizona State that is riding a conference-high seven-game winning streak. It's Arizona State that earned home-field advantage with a superior conference record (8-1 to Stanford's 7-2; both are 10-2 overall). And it's Arizona State that is favored.
Further, the Sun Devils haven't forgotten what happened in Stanford Stadium. As if a first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season wasn't enough motivation, the Sun Devils players specifically want a piece of Stanford, the defending conference champs.
"It's a chance for us to redeem ourselves," defensive tackle Will Sutton said.
The Sun Devils probably can make things a lot closer just by being less sloppy. They saw a punt blocked and missed a field goal in just the first half of the teams' first meeting, when they fell hopelessly behind. Quarterback Taylor Kelly threw two interceptions. And, to make matters worse, the Pac-12's least penalized-team was flagged six times for 65 yards.
ASU coach Todd Graham said the Sun Devils are improved in every area, most particularly special teams.
But the biggest advantage Arizona State has is playing at home. It is 7-0 in Sun Devil Stadium this year with an average margin of victory of 28 points. Meanwhile, Stanford's two losses, to Utah and USC, came on the road.
"I think it's the greatest advantage we have in this game, that we're playing right here in the valley in Sun Devil Stadium," Graham said.
That said, Stanford still has the biggest -- literally -- pieces in place that led to its previous win against the Sun Devils: Physical offensive and defensive lines that dominated the smaller Sun Devils.
Arizona State rushed for only 50 yards at Stanford while yielding 240 yards on the ground to the Cardinal. Those numbers need to be closer for the Sun Devils to prevail.
As Shaw sees it -- and Arizona State hopes he's right -- the earlier meeting is mostly irrelevant, just as it was in last season's Pac-12 title game. Stanford dominated UCLA in the final 2012 regular-season game 35-17, but just six days later, the Cardinal were pushed to the brink by the Bruins before prevailing 27-24.
What matters is the present, not the past.
"That was a long time ago," Shaw said. "We're a different team. They are a different team. This is a new game. It's almost like a new season."
Yep. It's bowl season, and these two teams are hunting roses.