Stanford Football: 2013 Pac-12 championship

What we learned: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
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Stanford earned a trip to the Rose Bowl on Saturday, it's fourth consecutive berth in a BCS bowl. Here are a few things we learned from the Pac-12 title game:

Smelling roses: As the Pac-12 champion, Stanford will head to the Rose Bowl where it will play Michigan State -- its fourth consecutive BCS bowl. Stanford won going away despite heading to Arizona as a two-point underdog.

Shaw joins elite company: Stanford coach David Shaw joins Chip Kelly and Larry Coker as the third coach to lead his team to BCS bowls in his first three years as head coach. Unlike Coker and Kelly, Shaw figures to remain at Stanford for the long haul. He has said time and time again that he plans to remain at Stanford until his infant children graduate from Stanford. With some coaches it sounds like lip service. With Shaw it sounds genuine.

Gaffney has an NFL future: When Tyler Gaffney returned to Stanford after a foray into professional baseball, it wasn't clear how good a running back he was. He backed up Stepfan Taylor in his junior season -- two years ago -- but it was never clear just how talented Gaffney was. Now there is no doubt. If Gaffney wants to pursue a career in the NFL, that option will be there. His 138-yard game against Arizona State punctuated a remarkable final season at Stanford.

Week 15 helmet stickers

December, 8, 2013
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In a decisive Pac-12 title-game win Saturday, a couple of Stanford players stood out and earned helmet stickers:

RB Tyler Gaffney: Gaffney passed the 100-yard mark for the seventh time in the last eight games with 133 yards on 22 carries. He scored three of Stanford's five touchdowns as Stanford defended its Pac-12 title.

WR Ty Montgomery: Montgomery had five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown and returned two kicks for 59 yards. He sits at 58 catches for 937 yards and 10 receiving touchdowns on the year.

LB Trent Murphy: Murphy was second behind Shayne Skov with seven tackles in the game. The nation's sack leader added one to his total and had two tackles for a loss.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 15

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So who deserves a helmet sticker for a job well done?

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Gaffney earned Pac-12 championship game MVP honors after rushing for 133 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinal's 38-14 win over Arizona State.

Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford: Hogan played perhaps his best road game of the year, completing 12 of 18 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State. He also rushed for 24 yards.

D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State: Foster rushed for a 51-yard touchdown and turned a short pass into a 65-yard score against Stanford.

Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford: Murphy had seven tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble against the Sun Devils.

Chris Young, LB, Arizona State: Young had a team-high eight tackles, including a game-high four tackles for a loss against Stanford. He had a sack, forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State was one of the nation's hottest teams heading into the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford. It had won seven in a row, the longest winning streak in the conference. Further, it was playing at home, where it was 7-0 with a 28-point average margin of victory. The Cardinal's only two losses came on the road.

That was reasonable grounds to believe that the 11th-ranked Sun Devils would fare better against No. 7 Stanford than in their Sept. 21 meeting, a 42-28 Cardinal whipping that wasn't nearly as close as the final score suggests.

Nope.

Stanford did its smashmouth Stanford thing, and Arizona State was pretty helpless to do what it wanted to do in a 38-14 victory that will send the Cardinal to its second consecutive Rose Bowl, this time opposite Big Ten champion Michigan State.

"They dominated the game -- beat us in every way you can," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said.

And how does Stanford dominate? Said Graham, "They destroyed the line of scrimmage."

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Gaffney got Stanford off to a fast start with a 69-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
That's Stanford's thing. While many teams are spreading out defenses and outflanking them while going up-tempo, Stanford just lines up and tries to knock you over. It's not always pretty. But when Stanford is playing its best, it often renders all schematic complexities used against it irrelevant.

Arizona State had a plan, one that it thought would make things different this time. But it couldn't get started because, as Graham said, Stanford was destroying the line of scrimmage.

"I mean, they've made changes, but the way this team operates and the way we function, it's about us," Cardinal linebacker Shayne Skov said. "Offenses will change, but what matters is what we do defensively and offensively. We have to set the tone. We never want to adjust or have to adapt. We want to be the ones setting the tempo and forcing people to adjust to our style of football."

The Cardinal is now 11-2 after playing one of the nation's toughest schedules. How good are they in big games? Stanford is 10-0 in its past 10 games versus AP-ranked opponents, including 6-0 this season.

It's fair to ask how Stanford lost two games, to Utah and USC. But you won't get many excuses from the Cardinal.

"We bring the effort every week, but we didn't get the results we wanted," Skov said.

Stanford doesn't only grind it out, however. It got its first of nine plays of longer than 20 yards on its first possession when running back Tyler Gaffney slipped around the Sun Devils defense and ran 69 yards for a touchdown.

Gaffney would go on to rush for 133 yards on 22 carries with three touchdowns, earning game MVP honors. When the Cardinal went to the Rose Bowl last year, he was a professional baseball player watching from the sidelines in Pasadena. His return to the team, spurred in large part because of that game reigniting his football itch, is a big reason he's going to play in the Granddaddy himself.

"This is exactly why you come back," he said. "This is what you play for."

He now has rushed for 1,618 yards and a Pac-12 high 20 touchdowns this season.

"There is no question that Tyler Gaffney has been the heartbeat of our offense all year," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Gaffney, you just watch him play, and he gets stronger and stronger. He just drags guys."

While Gaffney was the offensive star, junior quarterback Kevin Hogan's performance was perhaps more notable. He has been up and down this year, but he was decidedly up against the Sun Devils, completing 12 of 18 passes for 277 yards and a score with no interceptions. He also rushed for 24 yards.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
AP Photo/Matt YorkQuarterback Kevin Hogan accounted for 301 yards and a touchdown in directing the Cardinal offense.
"With some of those step-up in the pocket throws and runs, those are huge plays, and we don't win without those plays," Shaw said. "Kevin's got ice water in his veins."

Of course, in contrast to many Pac-12 teams, the Cardinal is defense-first. Stanford held an opponent to 20 or fewer points for the seventh time in as many games. The Cardinal has held opponents to 20 or fewer points in 20 of its past 25 games.

Stanford outgained the Sun Devils 517 yards to 311 and outrushed them 240 to 138, with the Sun Devils getting more than a third of their yards on the ground from a 51-yard first-quarter touchdown run from D.J. Foster. The Sun Devils' other score came on a short pass that Foster turned into a 65-yard touchdown play.

Shaw admitted there was some big-picture, retrospective thinking in his locker room leading up to the game. Stanford, which went 1-11 in 2006, is on an unprecedented run of success, as it becomes the fifth -- and final -- team to go to four straight BCS games.

"I told the players what was at stake," Shaw said. "What was at stake is their legacy."

That legacy is a very specific set of skills. It's simple. And just a bit brutal.

Explained Skov: "We're going to come after you offensively, defensively and attack the line of scrimmage. It's what we do, and we were successful today."

Today and for four consecutive seasons that featured 46 victories, most of which looked a lot like the 2013 Pac-12 championship game.

Video: Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney

December, 8, 2013
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Ted Miller talks with Stanford RB Tyler Gaffney about winning the Pac-12 championship after running over Arizona State.

Matchups to watch: Stanford at ASU

December, 7, 2013
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Here are five matchups to watch in the Pac-12 Championship:

Stanford LG David Yankey vs. Arizona State DT Will Sutton: The conference's two-time Defensive Player of the Year (Sutton) and best offensive lineman (Yankey) both play on the interior and will spend a bulk of the game heading at one another. Yankey, a junior, has yet to decide on his NFL future, while Sutton will spend his Sundays next year getting paid. In the first go-round, Yankey and the Stanford offensive line neutralized Sutton, but he came on strong later in the year.

[+] EnlargeTy Montgomery
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTy Montgomery caught two touchdown passes the first time these teams met.
Stanford WR Ty Montgomery vs. Arizona State CB Robert Nelson: Montgomery rebounded from an injury-plagued sophomore season to become one of the nation's most dynamic players. A second-team All-Pac-12 selection at receiver, Montgomery will see plenty of Nelson, a first-team all-conference pick in his first season as a full-time starter.

Stanford OLB Trent Murphy vs. Arizona State LT Evan Finkenberg: There were two surprises for Stanford coach David Shaw on the All-Pac-12 team: Sutton over Murphy and the omission of Stanford left tackle Andrus Peat from the first team. Murphy, who leads the nation with 13 sacks, will have a chance to justify those minor gripes as he'll spend a lot of the day trying to get past Finkenberg -- one of the players selected in favor of
Peat.

Stanford CBs Wayne Lyons/Alex Carter vs. Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong: Stanford doesn't generally assign a corner to shadow the opposing team's best corner, which means Lyons and Carter both will see time on the standout junior college transfer. Strong had at least three catches in every game this year, including 12 for 168 yards and a touchdown in the first game against Stanford.

Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason vs. Arizona State coach Todd Graham: Graham's high-powered offense and Mason's hard-nosed defense are the signature units for each team. In the first meeting, Stanford shut out Arizona State in the first half before the Sun Devils made the necessary adjustments to score four second-half touchdowns. Those 28 second-half points rank as the most points Stanford has allowed in an entire game this season, while the Sun Devils have been held to less than 30 on just one other occasion this year.
"Been there, done that" doesn’t fly with this year’s Stanford team.

True, the Cardinal are in the Pac-12 championship game for the second straight year. But the team is different. The circumstances are different. The opponent is different. And, perhaps most importantly, the venue is different.

“I think there is a sense of excitement because it’s a challenge,” said Stanford head coach David Shaw. “Last year we were fortunate enough to have it at home. This year we have to go on the road, and it’s going to be loud. It’s going to be an exciting environment against a really good football team that feeds off of that environment. Our guys are getting geared up for that. They know it’s a completely different world than last year and it’s going to be a tough game to win.”

[+] EnlargeShaw/Hogan
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesQuarterback Kevin Hogan and head coach David Shaw have led Stanford to a 5-0 record against ranked opponents this season.
With 14 seniors listed as starters on the depth chart -- plus seniors at both kicking spots -- Stanford’s veteran group has seen its share of tight games and hostile environments. On defense, 10 of the 11 starters are juniors or seniors.

“They want to see how far they can push themselves and see what their legacy is,” Shaw said. “It’s still a phenomenal legacy. There’s only three teams in the nation with 10-plus wins in four years. That’s already a legacy. To go to back-to-back Rose Bowls would be an addition to the legacy. How high we finish ranked is an addition to the legacy. All those things work together. They don’t think about the negative because it’s all positive.”

As it was in last year’s title game, the Cardinal will be playing an opponent for the second time in a season. This time, they at least have more than six days between meetings.

But the Sun Devils have a pretty veteran group, as well -- especially on defense and in their front seven -- and they, too, are trying to establish their own legacy. ASU coach Todd Graham vividly remembers the lessons learned when these teams met earlier this season, a game Stanford won 42-28 after jumping out to a 39-7 lead through three quarters.

“When we went to play them earlier in the year, we felt like we were pretty confident,” Graham said. “We were coming off a big win over Wisconsin. We’re a pretty talented team. We thought we were pretty disciplined. And we found out what a disciplined team looked like.”

Since that game, the Sun Devils have gone on to win eight of nine while Stanford has gone 7-2 over that stretch -- including wins over four teams ranked in the top 25.

“There is no question they are a veteran team,” Graham said. “But more importantly, they are the defending Pac-12 champion. The defending Rose Bowl champion. That experience is big. We talk to our players about being humble and being hungry. We are the contender. They are the defending champion. You have to take it from them. They aren’t going to give it away. You can see that maturity. You can see they won the Rose Bowl and they are the defending champion.”

Both of Stanford’s losses have come on the road this season to unranked teams -- though it’s worth noting that quarterback Kevin Hogan is still perfect as a starter against teams ranked in the AP Top 25. But on the road there is a significant drop-off in offensive production as the Cardinal have averaged fewer than 20 points per game in their past three contests away from Palo Alto.

“I think it’s high school, college, NFL -- you play better at home,” Shaw said. “Everybody does. You just have to find a way to win the game at the end. ... For us, it’s about keeping our composure. We don’t want to kick a bunch of field goals. You've got to end those drives in the end zone and hopefully we can slow them down on defense.”

Despite the perceived advantage of playing at home -- where ASU is 7-0 this year and outscoring opponents by an average of more than four touchdowns per game -- Graham said his team can’t take anything for granted.

“We are the contender,” he said. “We have not won a championship. We have to outwork, outprepare -- we have to be twice as hungry. And we'd better be humble and respect that these guys are champions.”

Pac-12 week 15: Did you know?

December, 6, 2013
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Some notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for many of these numbers.
  • The stakes in the Pac-12 championship game between Arizona State and Stanford is an invitation to the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game.
  • Stanford won the Rose Bowl last season and is looking to reach the Rose Bowl in consecutive season for the first time since 1970 and 1971. Stanford played in the very first Rose Bowl, a 49-0 loss to Michigan in 1902 (1901 season). Arizona State has reached the Rose Bowl twice in school history, with the last coming during the 1996 season. It lost that Rose Bowl 20-17 to Ohio State.
  • This is a rematch (though in a different stadium) of a game these teams played on September 21, a dominating effort by Stanford in a 42-28 win. The Cardinal led that game 29-0 at halftime and only allowed seven rushing yards in the first half. The Sun Devils managed just 50 yards on the ground for the game, which was their only Pac-12 loss. Arizona State’s rushing game will have a challenge again since RB Marion Grice likely won’t play in this game with a leg injury. Grice also missed last week’s game against Arizona.
  • This is the second straight season that Stanford will be playing in the Pac-12 championship game against a team it played earlier in the season. Last season Stanford won at UCLA in the regular-season finale, then hosted UCLA six days later in the Pac-12 championship game and won the rematch.
  • How important was it for Arizona State to get this game at home? The Sun Devils are 7-0 at home this season, outscoring opponents by 28.3 points per game. That’s much better than playing at Stanford, where the Cardinal have won 16 straight home games, the second-longest active home win streak in the FBS behind South Carolina’s 18.
  • The Cardinal has been at its best against top-quality opponents recently, going 9-0 in its last nine games against AP-ranked opponents. That includes a 5-0 record this season. Stanford’s only two losses this season came on the road against unranked opponents.
  • Each of these teams has played an exceedingly difficult schedule according to ESPN analytical measurements. That helps illustrate why, even with two losses, Arizona State is ranked No. 2 overall and Stanford No. 4 overall in the latest edition of ESPN’s Championship Drive Ratings. The Championship Drive Ratings evaluate teams on the difficulty of achieving their record and how well they control games using in-game win probability, both adjusted for quality of opponent. The Sun Devils strength of schedule rating was third in the nation. Stanford's was seventh.
  • Stanford QB Kevin Hogan needs to be careful in this game: Arizona State has returned five interceptions for touchdowns this season. That’s tied for most in the FBS with Florida State and Baylor. It’s the same number of interceptions returned for touchdowns that Arizona State had over the previous three seasons combined.
  • The Pac-12 all-conference teams were announced on Monday and maybe it’s no surprise that these teams are meeting for the conference title since they tied for the conference lead with six first-team selections each. Arizona State coach Todd Graham was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year and is squaring off in this game against the coach who won it each of the previous two years: Stanford’s David Shaw.
  • Arizona State DL Will Sutton was named Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight year. The only other Pac-12 player to be Defensive Player of the Year twice in his career is Washington DL Steve Emtman.



ASU wants redemption vs. Stanford

December, 6, 2013
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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."

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsTyler Gaffney had 87 of Stanford's 240 rushing yards and scored two touchdowns vs. ASU in September.
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.

Recruits watching: Stanford at ASU 

December, 6, 2013
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Saturday offers the final game of the Pac-12 season, as Stanford visits Arizona State in the conference title game. The Sun Devils and Cardinal sit at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in the Pac-12 class recruiting rankings, and this weekend will give both a chance to impress recruits on a national platform.

Many recruits from the 2014 and 2015 classes will have their attention focused on the Pac-12 title game, but here are 10 seniors who likely will be paying especially close attention.

OG Kammy Delp (Pomona, Calif./Diamond Ranch): The three-star offensive lineman is a priority target for a number of Pac-12 programs, with Arizona State among them. Delp has taken official visits to Arizona State and Washington State, while UCLA remains the likely leader. A conference championship for Arizona State would send a strong message to recruits -- Delp included -- and there is plenty of room for the big lineman in ASU's class, as the Sun Devils hold commits from just two offensive linemen so far.


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Video: Pac-12 Game of the Week

December, 5, 2013
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Ted Miller looks at the Stanford-Arizona State rematch in the Pac-12 championship game.

Take 2: Unsung heroes to watch

December, 5, 2013
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The Pac-12 championship game is a venue for stars to shine. And there will be plenty of star power on both sides of the ball when Stanford travels to Arizona State for the 2013 title game. There will be 12 first-team all-conference players, six from each team, squaring off. But who are the guys who aren’t first-teamers but could end up making a difference? Who are the unsung heroes from each team? Your Pac-12 bloggers offer up their thoughts. Ted Miller takes the ASU side, while Kevin Gemmell picks a Stanford player.

Ted Miller: While I think the key for Arizona State is establishing some type of running game against the rugged Stanford defense, I want to go the other way on Arizona State's unsung hero: LB Chris Young.

[+] EnlargeChris Young
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsIf Arizona State is going to topple Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, Chris Young is going to have to play a big role.
Now, Young is no longer a complete secret. He earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors at a position that's stacked in the conference, but it does seem most folks don't know much about him, a point that two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year Will Sutton brought up Monday when he singled out Young as a "baller" when talking about the Sun Devils defense.

Young not only led the Sun Devils in tackles with 95, he had 35 more tackles than anyone else. So you'd think he'll play a key role as the Arizona State defense tries to contain Tyler Gaffney and Stanford's power running game. In the first meeting at Stanford, a 42-28 Cardinal domination, Young had a game-high 10 tackles.

But in that game, he only had half a tackle for a loss, as Gaffney and the Stanford O-line dominated. In fact, the Sun Devils only had five tackles for a loss in the game. They averaged 7.3 per game in the other 11 games. Young himself had 12.5 tackles for a loss this season to go along with 6.5 sacks, including three against UCLA.

The Sun Devils run an aggressive, attacking defensive scheme. They are willing to take risks to get a handful of negative plays. They need negative plays against Stanford. They can't afford to give the Cardinal third-and-short over and over again.

Of course, Young also could make a couple of plays on third-and-short, and that likely would energize his defense and the home crowd. Stanford likes to go mano-a-mano at the line of scrimmage. If Young leads a charge that wins some of those battles during the early going, you'll see the Sun Devils taking a major step forward from their first meeting at Stanford.

Young needs to make plays against Stanford, both behind or close to the line of scrimmage. You'd have to like the Sun Devils chances if Stanford and QB Kevin Hogan are forced to throw the ball more than they'd like.

Kevin Gemmell: I’m on board with picking a defensive player. It’s always Trent Murphy this and Shayne Skov that when talking about the Stanford defense, which is fine. Those guys are All-America candidates and worthy of all of the praise that is heaped upon them.

But you know who always gets lost in the shuffle? The forgotten linebacker, A.J. Tarpley. Let’s not forget about the guy who is second on the team with 80 tackles, including five for a loss, and a sack.

Tarpley often gets overlooked because of bigger-name players. But who is the guy usually coming up with a big play in a big game? That’s right, it’s Tarpley.

See his 2011 interception of Matt Barkley. See his 2012 pick of Marcus Mariota. And don’t forget about his pick this season of Keith Price and Washington. Tarpley is a big-game player. And the Cardinal will need another big-time performance out of him as they travel to Tempe.

That’s not to say that Tarpley is going to get a pick in this game. Taylor Kelly doesn’t throw many -- though six of his 11 interceptions have come at home this season. When Kelly throws an interception in his career, the Sun Devils are 6-7. When he doesn’t, they are 11-0. So pass rush and turnovers will obviously be critical, as is the case every week.

A lot has been made about this game being at ASU and the fact that both of Stanford's losses have come on the road, which is an important storyline. But some of Tarpley’s best performances in his career have come on the road.

In fact, when you look at just this season, Tarpley averages 8.1 tackles per game on the road and 6 tackles per game at home. Twice he’s had double-digit tackles this year. Both came on the road, as Tarpley had 13 at Oregon State and 12 at Utah.

This is the kind of game Tarpley was made for; on the road, a tense situation, and everyone looking for the superstars to make a play. But it might just be Tarpley who ends up being the true difference-maker.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 15

December, 5, 2013
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Five things to keep an eye on in Saturday’s Pac-12 championship game between Stanford and Arizona State:

  1. Oh, what a rush: One thing we know for sure about both of these teams is they can get after the quarterback. The interesting element is they do it in very different ways. Per ESPN Stats & Info, since the start of last season, the Cardinal have an FBS-best 92 sacks. And when they are sending just four pass-rushers, they have an AQ-high 67. On the flip side, ASU leads all AQ schools with 48 sacks when sending five or more pass-rushers since the start of last year. They love to attack and blitz. This is important because of …
  2. [+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
    Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesHow will Kevin Hogan do against Arizona State's pressure?
  3. … The Hogan factor: Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan has completed 51.8 percent of his passes against the blitz this season compared to 65.3 percent when he doesn’t face extra pressure. And if ASU gets too aggressive, it’s also worth noting that he has seven passing touchdowns after play-action, six of which have come on throws of at least 15 yards downfield. Of his 19 passing touchdowns this year, 18 have been to wide receivers.
  4. Grice on ice: Marion Grice, Arizona State’s leading rusher and third-leading receiver, is likely out because of an injury he suffered against Arizona last Saturday. Grice has been responsible for one-third of Arizona State's offensive touchdowns this season, and his 20 touchdowns (14 rushing, 6 receiving) rank second among FBS skill position players.
  5. Here we come: It's no surprise what Stanford wants to do offensively -- run at the heart of ASU's defensive line. Tyler Gaffney has been one of the top running backs in the country over the second half of the season. He has rushed for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns (146.1 yards per game) in the past seven games. ASU's defense is tops in the country at getting offenses off of the field. So far this season ASU's defense has 79 drives where it forced a three-and-out. Stanford converts 52 percent of its third downs, and the average distance to go is an FBS-low 5.2 yards.
  6. Containing Kelly: Stanford wants to pound away with Gaffney for a couple of reasons. First, he's a bruiser and it wears down the defense. But it also keeps ASU's offense off the field. ASU's Taylor Kelly has seven rushing touchdowns over the past six games. This is of note because he had only one rushing touchdown in 18 games prior to the current streak. Through 12 games, Kelly already has 3,337 passing yards and is averaging 278.1 yards per game. Worth noting, too, that ASU is 6-7 when Kelly throws an interception and 11-0 when he doesn’t.

Pac-12 championship game predictions

December, 5, 2013
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Kevin and Ted, with the exact same picks, went 5-1 last week and improved to 74-17.

Just one game on tap, but it's a biggie.

Saturday: Pac-12 championship game

STANFORD at ARIZONA STATE

Kevin Gemmell: That this game is being played in Tempe is scary. I don't have a great history picking road dogs this season. ASU, riding a seven-game home winning streak, is a much stronger team in the desert and both of Stanford’s losses have come on the road. The defense has been on a tear since the Notre Dame loss and QB Taylor Kelly’s increased production in the run game has given the offense a boost. The question is whether the offense can be as potent without Marion Grice. Having Grice and D.J. Foster on the field at the same time allows the Sun Devils to do a lot of different things. That element is missing. I see Tyler Gaffney breaking 40 carries again as the Cardinal control the clock and keep ASU’s offense off the field. Stanford 31, Arizona State 28.

Ted Miller: In the Sept. 21 game -- a 42-28 Stanford blowout that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicates -- Arizona State gave the Cardinal two interceptions and two blocked punts. It was a messy performance from an ASU team that was learning who it was. Over the past seven games -- all wins -- the Sun Devils have matured. They won't be the sloppy team they were at Stanford. They are 7-0 at home this year with an average margin of victory of 28 points. They won't reach that margin against the rugged Cardinal, but they are going to do enough to earn the school its first Rose Bowl berth since the 1996 season. Arizona State 28, Stanford 24.

Planning for success: Stanford

December, 5, 2013
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In its Pac-12 opener against then-No. 23 Arizona State, Stanford opened with arguably its best half of football ever. Seriously.

In building a 29-0 halftime lead and extending it to 39-7 through three quarters, the Cardinal looked every bit a team poised to make a run at a national title. Then came the fourth quarter, in which Stanford was forced to hold off a furious charge to win 42-28.

Those first three quarters were rendered nearly obsolete, and when Stanford coach David Shaw addressed the media following the game, it wasn't the most jovial of sessions.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTaylor Kelly and Arizona State made Stanford sweat in the fourth quarter of their first meeting, which should prevent the Cardinal from overlooking the Sun Devils in the Pac-12 title game.
"I'm not going to apologize for winning a football game," he said, almost defiantly. "I could care less about style points; I could care less about what it looks like. We played one great half and a solid third quarter and a bad fourth quarter. That's the bottom line."

With the Cardinal (10-2 overall, 7-2 Pac-12) set to play Arizona State (10-2, 8-1) again on Saturday in the Pac-12 championship, it turns out that poor fourth quarter might have been a blessing in disguise. Say Stanford had added another two touchdowns and won 53-7. Would there be any feeling in the Stanford locker room that the rematch was anything to worry about? Probably not.

Instead, Stanford has a first-hand reminder of just how dangerous the Sun Devils can be, and if that's not enough, there is plenty of game film since then that makes the same case.

"You put the film on, you watch these guys run by people. You watch them dominate games," Shaw said. "You watch them dominate teams we struggled with. You put two game films on and you immediately have a lot of respect for these guys.

"That game was a long time ago. We believe we’re a different team, they’re a different team, this is a new game and it’s almost like a different season."

If there are two players to watch in the game, they're Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy. For the second straight season, Sutton was named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year despite much more gaudy stats from Murphy, the nation's sack leader. It's been a topic of debate since it was announced Monday and was addressed by Shaw.

"I don’t know if anyone in our conference causes more problems than Trent Murphy leading the nation in sacks," he said. "I would say that’s a little bit of a disappointment. But I’ll never say anything bad about Sutton. He’s a great football player, not a good football player, a great football player."

If Stanford wins, Shaw would join Chip Kelly (Oregon) and Larry Coker (Miami) to become the third coach to take his program to BCS bowls in each of his first three seasons. A Rose Bowl berth would be Stanford's fourth consecutive BCS bowl, which -- pending an unlikely at-large bid for Oregon -- would give the Cardinal the nation's longest active streak.

Arizona State hasn't been to the Rose Bowl since losing to Ohio State 20-17 in 1997.

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