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All season long it's been the talk of how much better the Pac-12 North is than the South, yet in the championship game, that isn't the case. Arizona State overcame two early season losses and is hosting the Pac-12 title game. Despite already losing to Stanford, the Sun Devils are -3 point favorites at home.
That line just shows how far ASU has come since losing to the Cardinal back in September. While the Sun Devils actually had more yards in that game, it was dominated from the start by Stanford (-6.5) in a 29-0 halftime lead with ASU only making it respectable with a few fourth-quarter touchdowns. It's going to be a much different game this time around.
Stanford hasn't been too consistent this year, which is a main reason they are underdogs. The Cardinal's only two losses came at Utah and USC, while they beat teams like ASU, Washington, Oregon and UCLA at home. We know the defense will be solid even against Taylor Kelly, but can the offense put enough points on the board?
Kevin Hogan leads the Cardinal at quarterback and his numbers don't say a whole lot. Excluding a blowout win against California, Hogan has one passing touchdown and four interceptions in the last four games. Those are not good numbers at all and will have to change if Stanford wants to win. Tyler Gaffney has been a beast all year long rushing the ball with 1,485 yards and 17 touchdowns, but there's a point when Hogan will have to step up. While they will still run a good amount, expect Hogan to be forced into action if ASU can grab an early lead. Hogan will use playmaker WR Ty Montgomery as much as possible.
The Sun Devils haven't had an easy route to this game, but did finish with a two-game lead for the South title. A couple scary wins at Utah and UCLA were huge, while they had little problem winning at home in conference play, beating USC, Washington and Arizona by good margins.
Their first goal will be to stop Gaffney and Stanford's rushing attack because they couldn't last game and ended up losing 42-28, while giving up 240 rushing yards.
Offensively, quarterback Taylor Kelly has put in a solid season, but hasn't been as good as he was earlier in the year. Kelly has just four passing TDs and three INTs in his last four games. Against Stanford the first time around, Kelly tossed for 367 yards and three TDs as ASU fell behind early. In that previous matchup, running back Marion Grice had one of his worst games of the year running for only 50 yards. If they can start out quicker here, Grice will be given plenty opportunity to rush on Stanford. WR Jaelen Strong is Kelly's favorite target and will need to have a big game here.
The advantage goes to Arizona State playing at home, but don't think Stanford will act like this is another regular season game. The Cardinal know a bid to the Rose Bowl is on the line here and will come to play.
The Cardinal are 19-6-1 ATS in their last 26 road games and have covered in four straight December games. The Sun Devils are 4-1 ATS in their last five home games, but 2-6 ATS in their last eight December games. The favorite is 5-0-1 ATS in the last six meetings between these teams and the Cardinal are 1-3-1 ATS in their last five matchups at Arizona State.
Stanford has the better defensive yards per point numbers here with a 4 point edge over Arizona State. Stanford's number is 18 compared to 14 for the Sun Devils. A 14 as a def ypp number is poor. They make up for it with their offense but note that Stanford can also move the ball. The difference between the two teams using ypp numbers on offense is just 1 in favor of Arizona State. The schedule strength here for these teams is just about even.
It wouldn't be a stretch to call Stanford the better team considering they have the better numbers and the win over the Sun Devils. Our model likes the Sun Devils here predicting wins by 5, 3 and 9 when using full season, last 4 games and last 7 games as the parameters. We also can't ignore Arizona States turnover margin of +13, among the best in the land.
But we're going to go against the model here and side with the Cardinal. There's simply not much separating these two teams here. Anytime you can grab an underdog capapble of a straight up win, you have to strongly consider them. We're not using this game as a Key Release, but Stanford +3.
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