The national stage belongs to a pair of Pac-12 teams coming off their biggest wins of the season.
Stanford (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12) went on an improbable drive that culminated in an untimed-down touchdown to force overtime, where it beat No. 3-ranked Oregon last week. The victory reestablished Stanford as a contender in the Pac-12 North amid the longest divisional-title drought of head coach David Shaw's decade at the helm.
There's still a long road ahead, though, even if the Cardinal knocked off the Pac-12's preseason favorite.
"There's no trophy for beating Oregon," Shaw said. "Great effort, big game, great. ... They accomplished something that's really cool, but it was also in the process of our season. It's not the season."
Shaw's assessment that "when you win big games, the games get bigger" applies to Friday's matchup at Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State has the inside track on the early Pac-12 South race thanks to its own big win last week.
At UCLA last week, Arizona State (4-1, 2-0) looked like the offensively explosive dark-horse contender many anticipated seeing in 2021, but that hadn't quite manifested through the previous four games.
The Sun Devils chewed up the Bruins' defense on one side, then overwhelmed the UCLA offense in the second half with an imposing defensive effort.
Stanford at No. 22 Arizona State
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 8 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Arizona State -12
When Stanford Has the Ball
Tanner McKee has quietly been — though maybe not that quietly after last week — one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12. He decimated USC, gave the Cardinal a chance to beat UCLA despite a host of injuries, then threw for three touchdowns against Oregon.
McKee has been prolific, throwing for 1,093 yards in essentially four games, but most importantly avoided major errors. He and Matt Corral of Ole Miss are the only quarterbacks with at least 10 touchdown passes without a pick this season.
"I don't know what the ceiling is; it's up there. It's really high," Shaw said of McKee. "He plays above his experience level, to the point he makes a freshman mistake and it's shocking. It shouldn't be shocking, because he's still technically a freshman.
"The most exciting thing is he's still scratching the surface," Shaw added.
Brycen Tremayne has been on the receiving end of almost half of McKee's touchdown passes with five scoring grabs, while Elijah Higgins — who caught the overtime-forcing, back-shoulder fade against Oregon — has three.
Stanford offenses in the Shaw years have been at their best with effective pass-catching tight ends. While Benjamin Yurosek has yet to get into the end zone, he's coming off his most productive game. UCLA made effective use of tight end Greg Dulcich against Arizona State's defense in Week 5; look for the Cardinal to attack in a similar fashion with Yurosek.
As promising as Stanford's passing offense has looked for stretches with McKee behind center, the consistency of the run game is paramount to the Cardinal's success. Of no coincidence, Nathaniel Peat's two best performances were against USC and Oregon.
Arizona State is holding opponents to fewer than 3.6 yards per carry but hasn't conceded anything defending the pass. No opponent has gained more than UCLA's 235 yards through the air on the Sun Devils, and the Bruins reached that mark with volume rather than beating ASU on deep balls.
When Arizona State Has the Ball
Shaw called Arizona State "one of the best offenses in our conference," and the Sun Devils showed off the entirety of its strength at UCLA.
Quarterback Jayden Daniels needed just 13 completions to rack up 286 yards, 132 of them to Ricky Pearsall. One on of his two touchdown receptions, Pearsall capitalized on UCLA's aggressive blitzing, creating space for him to take a short pass the distance, but he also scored on a nice deep-ball connection.
In both instances, Pearsall blew past all defenders with no hope of catching him thanks to next-level speed.
A Stanford secondary that's been banged up much of the season will have its hands full countering Pearsall's breakaway speed. His emergence at the Rose Bowl gave ASU an element it was missing over the first four weeks when Daniels lacked a clear No. 1 receiving target.
"His performance was amazing," Daniels said after the game. "We worked super hard in the offseason. I know the type of work he put in and the type of receiver he is. It was his time to shine."
Multifaceted running back Rachaad White remains a dangerous playmaker in the passing game, though, and offensive coordinator Zak Hill will have some options for how to use him now that powerful ball carrier Chip Trayanum is back.
Between Daniels, Trayanum, and White, Arizona State has multiple options to attack a Stanford run defense that's given up more than 200 yards in all but one of its games thus far.
Sun Devil Stadium should be rocking harder than Mill Avenue with Arizona State in the Top 25 and Stanford coming in looking like a potential Pac-12 title contender. If the win at UCLA marked a turning point for the Sun Devils after the sluggish start to 2021, that should be evident early on Friday.