Stanford-Arizona St. Preview
STANFORD, Calif. (AP)
The Pac-12 title game matchup has been set for a week. Now so is the location.
And that could be a major factor in the outcome.
No. 11 Arizona State (10-2, 8-1), whose only league loss came at seventh-ranked Stanford (10-2, 7-2) on Sept. 21, will host the defending champion Cardinal in the Pac-12 title game Saturday night with a spot in the Rose Bowl at stake.
The Sun Devils sealed home-field advantage by routing rival Arizona 58-21 in the regular-season finale. Arizona State is 7-0 at home this season, and perhaps even more importantly, it avoids a return trip to Stanford Stadium - where the Cardinal have won 16 straight.
''I can tell you this: Our guys are determined, and we need everyone in these seats,'' Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. ''We need to be loud and proud and make it a great home-field advantage. Our guys want to win this and go to the Rose Bowl.''
The rematch figures to be quite different than the first go-around.
Stanford's 42-28 victory in the Pac-12 opener for both teams was mostly a one-sided affair. The Cardinal led 29-0 at halftime and 39-7 through three quarters before Taylor Kelly threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to give Stanford a brief scare.
Both teams have been through quite a lot since then.
The Sun Devils routed a reeling Southern California team 62-41 the following week, which led to the firing of Trojans coach Lane Kiffin, then lost 37-34 to Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, before rolling off seven straight victories - including a win at UCLA to clinch the South Division crown.
Stanford regrouped from a stunning upset at Utah that dashed its national championship hopes to beat previously undefeated Oregon. The Cardinal lost control of the Pac-12 North title with a loss at USC before getting it back when the Ducks dropped their game at Arizona the next week.
None of that matters now.
The Sun Devils are going for their first Rose Bowl berth since 1997. And Stanford, which beat Wisconsin for its first Rose Bowl victory in 41 years last season, is trying to book consecutive trips to the ''Granddaddy of Them All'' for the first time since 1971-72.
''We had ups and downs; we had bumps and bruises,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said. ''We lost some guys, had some guys step up. We lost a couple games. But when you look up, we're where we wanted to be, a 10-win team in the Pac-12 championship game, and it's going to be a heck of a game.''
The Sun Devils will likely be without leading scorer and rusher Marion Grice (injured leg) for the second straight week. The senior running back watched the win over Arizona on crutches from the sideline, and he is not expected to play against Stanford.
The Cardinal should be relatively healthy.
Defensive end and co-captain Ben Gardner has been out since having season-ending surgery on his left chest muscle in late October, and kicker Jordan Williamson's range is limited because of a leg injury. But Shaw said the Cardinal will get back defensive end Josh Mauro, who sat out Stanford's 27-20 win over Notre Dame on Saturday night with a leg injury.
The bigger challenge for Stanford to overcome might be beating the same opponent twice in the same season.
Last year, Stanford handled UCLA 35-17 in the regular-season finale before a tough 27-24 victory over the Bruins six days later for the conference championship. With so many games between meetings this time, both teams have had nearly a season of lessons learned, and now is the time to put them to use.
''It's unbelievable. We're anxious, but we know we have got a lot of work still,'' said Arizona State's D.J. Foster, who ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona in Grice's place. ''There is still a big game coming up, so we can't get ahead of ourselves. We still have to work hard and prepare like we always do. We just have to understand what we have in front of us and how close we are to our goal. But we have to finish strong.''
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP