Arizona St.-Utah Preview
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)
Arizona State took an important step last week by beating Washington State, earning its first road win while avoiding a slip-up against a team it should have beaten.
The stakes get even higher Saturday against Utah.
Yes, it's another game the 23rd-ranked Sun Devils should win and one they'll likely need if they want to win the Pac-12 South.
But by no means is it going to be easy. The Utes may have just one win in four conference games, but they're big, physical and have proved to be a tough team to play at home.
''This is going to be a very tough road game, a lot tougher than the one we just had,'' Arizona State coach Todd Graham said during his weekly news conference Monday.
Arizona State (6-2, 4-1) cleared a big hurdle last week, winning its first game away from Sun Devil Stadium - in three tries - by rolling over Washington State 55-21 in Pullman.
The victory moved Arizona State up two spots in The Associated Press poll and into the BCS rankings for the first time under Graham at No. 22.
Nice achievements, but not what Graham is looking for at this point in the season. He wants those high rankings later in the season, something the Sun Devils haven't had in quite a while.
''I'm only concerned about one ranking and that's the one at the end of the season,'' Graham said. ''Our goal is to be Pac-12 champions, to be Rose Bowl champions, to be a top-5 team every year. That's what we aspire to. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to get there. I guess it's nice to be in the BCS ranking, but it doesn't mean anything right now.''
The Sun Devils are in a good spot now, but still face a tough road toward reaching their goals.
The first is Utah. The Utes have been solid at home, knocking off No. 5 Stanford for their biggest upset victory at home as a program on Oct. 12, while losing to Oregon State and UCLA by a combined 10 points.
Utah (4-4, 1-4) is a physical team - something Arizona State has had trouble with at times in the past - and managed to push around the Cardinal in Stanford's only loss.
''I told our players this is a very, very good team,'' Graham said. ''They're a play or two away from being in this Pac-12 race and beat one of the best teams in the Pac-12 Conference. They're very tough, very disciplined, get after you, very well-coached.''
The schedule only gets tougher from there.
After Utah, Arizona State faces Oregon State at home on Nov. 16, No. 16 UCLA in Southern California and closes with rival Arizona at home.
Win all four, the Sun Devils will be in the Pac-12 championship game. Lose one or more and they'll have to get some help to get there.
''We've four games to get a fifth win,'' Graham said. ''We win those, we will be ranked pretty well.''
Although the Utes looked strong in knocking off Stanford, they managed a season-low 201 yards and turned the ball over four times in a 19-3 loss to USC on Oct. 26. Playing despite injuries to his throwing hand, Travis Wilson struggled and he now faces an Arizona State defense that has totaled 13 sacks and four interceptions in its last three games.
The Sun Devils have been just as overpowering offensively in their last three, scoring 54, 53 and 55 points.
"Great offense, second only to Oregon in total offense and scoring and playing really good defense, too," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Very complete football team is what Arizona State is."
The Sun Devils have won both meetings with Utah since it moved to the Pac-12, and nine in a row in the series since a 31-28 loss in 1976.