The only conference championship game that is a rematch from the regular season, Arizona State are hoping that a lot of things have changed since they last met Stanford back in September.
Just the fact that this game is being held in Tempe, with the Pac-12 not liking a neutral ground, instead giving the team with the best record the chance to play at home, making this game very different. Stanford beat the Sun Devils 42-28 in that game, leading 39-7 at one point, but it was in Palo Alto, and it seems plenty has changed since then.
Stanford have lost twice – to Utah and USC, while Arizona State did lose two games after dropping their only conference game to Stanford (34-37 against Notre Dame), but have won seven games in a row, including against Washington (by 29 points) and on the road against UCLA, which gave them the lead and eventual title in the South division.
The gameplan for Stanford is simple – run, and stop the run on the other side. Few teams, including in the SEC, have mastered this power-style as well as Stanford has over the last few years and especially since Andrew Luck was drafted by the Colts. It led them to a Rose Bowl victory against Wisconsin last year, and even though they’re slightly inferior to the 2012 team, the Cardinal are probably slight favorites to ride Tyler Gaffney and his 146.1 yards (last 7 games) on the ground to victory. Stanford are 4th in the nation when it comes to yards per carry against them, allowing only 3 each rush.
Arizona State are a good defensive team, mostly against the pass, but they’re not going to run a lot anyway. Marion Grice, the team’s best playmaker isn’t playing, which means Arizona State will need to find a way and fill in for his 1400 yards from scrimmage this season. It probably means a bit more running from Taylor Kelly, and a lot more targeting of Jaelen Strong, the Sophomore receiver with 1067 receiving yards this season, catching 7 touchdown passes.
Prediction – Stanford haven’t looked great in big games away from home this season, which means Arizona State, despite not having Grice to lean on, will end up in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1997.