Picking the Pac-12 Championship Game

The Stanford defense will have their hands full with an explosive Sun Devil offense - Ezra Shaw

Arizona State hosts Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game Saturday evening. In their first meeting this season in Palo Alto, Stanford won 42-28. Can Arizona State avenge that loss and claim their first outright Pac-12 title since 1996?

Saturday, December 7th

Stanford @ Arizona State (-3), 4:45PM PT, ESPN

It wasn't exactly the path they expected to get here, but Stanford nonetheless finds themselves in the Pac-12 Championship game for the 2nd straight year. And like last year, they face a South division opponent they have already beaten during the season. This time however they will not be at home for the Championship game, and that could be trouble - each of Stanford's 4 losses over the last two years have occurred on the road. Their gameplan should be a familiar one - they will look to control the game with a steady, effective running game featuring a heavy dose of Tyler Gaffney, supplemented with play-action passes from Kevin Hogan hoping to find big-play threat Ty Montgomery free in the secondary. They will lean on their top-notch defense to control the line of scrimmage, shut down ASU's run game and get heavy pressure on Taylor Kelly. In their first matchup Stanford controlled the game from the start, ahead 29-0 at the half and 39-7 at the end of the 3rd quarter. They will likely find the sledding tougher this time around, but they've shown they can be very effective in stopping spread teams, and in fact it's been pro-style teams similar to themselves that have tended to give them the most difficulty.

Arizona State is riding a big wave of momentum with a 7 game win streak, and the advanced metrics love them. By F/+ they are the #4 team in the country, right behind Stanford. Jeff Sagarin has them even higher at #3, with Stanford at #8. After a controversial win over Wisconsin, the loss to Stanford and a tough loss to Notre Dame, they've really come on as Marion Grice has emerged as one of the top all-around RB's in the country. WR Jaelen Strong has given Kelly a big-time WR target. And after a slow start to the year, DT Will Sutton has been looking a lot more like the disruptive force he was last year. They are a swarming, attacking team on both sides of the ball, and they have played with a real swagger at home. Still, Stanford had their number earlier in the year, and other similar styles of teams (Notre Dame, Utah) gave them trouble. I think the Sun Devils will make this one a lot closer than the first contest, but in the end I like the Cardinal to pull out a tough, close win: Stanford 27, Arizona State 24

Record last week:

Straight-up: 5-1

Vs. the spread: 1-5

Record this year:

Straight-up: 68-23

Vs. the spread: 43-46-1

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