For the first time since Jake Plummer was leading Arizona State to the Rose Bowl, it seems Arizona State is going to be a viable contender in the chase for national supremacy. And it’s not a fluke either.
There may not be many teams that can give up 62 points at home and still be considered a legitimate contender for the College Football Playoff, but Arizona State has managed to rise from the ashes of that awful Thursday night performance against UCLA. Arizona State could have sunk in their malaise after that game, but instead the Sun Devils fired up wins at a ranked USC and returned home to score revenge against Stanford in a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch. Though the Trojans and Cardinal are no longer ranked, at the time it was vital for Arizona State to bounce back against respected opponents. The Stanford win more than anything helped Arizona State put behind them their disappointments over the past year, and they have not let up since.
Arizona State’s road win at Washington was nice, but winning a defensive battle with ranked Utah in overtime at home and following that up with an impressive victory at home against top 10 Notre Dame team has served as a nice statement to the College Football Playoff selection committee. The committee may have been withholding some judgments on Notre Dame the past two weeks, but that should change now. The committee will likely hammer Notre Dame with a second loss against a ranked team, but at the same time the committee may reward Arizona State for their effort. Arizona State started strong and managed to finish strong after losing the momentum. Regardless of what happens to Notre Dame, the selection committee should feel inclined to respect the full performance from Arizona State.
Few teams have shown the kind of balance Arizona State has this season. Despite playing through some quarterback injury concerns for Taylor Kelly, Arizona State has kept a balanced attack with the nation’s 26th best passing offense and the 44th best rushing offense. Maybe those numbers do not impress much, but put them together and that is one dependable and balanced offense that keeps defensive coordinators on their toes. The defense has also been resurgent since seeing UCLA score 62 points in Tempe in late September. Arizona State has held three of its past four opponents to fewer than 20 points, and it was the defense that helped set the tone to a big start against Notre Dame. Arizona State forced five turnovers, including two interceptions returned for a touchdown. This Arizona State team is hot as the sun. Can they keep the focus on the bigger prize at the end of the tunnel?
Arizona State still has a game with Arizona looming at the end of the season, and it is on the road. No game should be taken for granted by Arizona State, especially a rivalry game against the Wildcats. Keeping in mind how dangerous this Arizona team is capable of being, Arizona State will have its work cut out for it the rets of the way if the Sun Devils are intent on staying in the playoff picture. Arizona is the only team to defeat Oregon. If Arizona State can get by Arizona and avoid upset bids by Oregon State and Washington State, the Sun Devils will get their chance to upend the Ducks with a possible playoff spot on the line in addition to the Pac-12 trophy.
- By Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB)