Stanford-Arizona St. Preview

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