By Sam Fisher
The Pac-12 Championship Game is rapidly approaching, and what an important game it is to the Cardinal. With a win, Stanford’s loss at USC — one of the most painful losses in recent memory — is forgiven and forgotten. With a loss, Stanford’s 2013-14 football season is officially a disappointment and borderline disaster.
Who would have imagined that this edition of the Cardinal (reigning Rose Bowl Champions and a consistent No. 5 seed in the early 2013-14 season) might wind up with three losses and a final game at the Alamo Bowl, Holiday Bowl (the most likely destination for the Pac-12 Championship Game loser) or an even worse bowl? But at the same time, not many people could have envisioned that a two-loss Stanford team would even have the opportunity to play for the Pac-12 title.
The great thing about the Pac-12, however, is that Saturday’s game provides an opportunity for these teams to fight for a Rose Bowl berth on the field. Clearly Arizona State is trying everything it can to win the pregame hype contest, but that won’t decide the champion.
If I were a member of the Stanford football team, especially if I were a defensive starter, I would be ticked off by the rhetoric coming out of Tempe, Ariz. The Sun Devils seem to believe that they are the better football team, the “team of destiny.” They think that because Las Vegas put the point spread slightly in their favor that nothing can stop them from heading to Pasadena.
The more I scout this game, the more confident I am in the Cardinal’s chance. Arizona State looks great on paper. The Sun Devils have great athletes on defense, play great at home and have been playing much better football down the stretch. But Arizona State has not proven to me that it can be physical.
You don’t prove yourself as a physical football team against Colorado, Washington State or Oregon State. To prove yourself as a physical football team in this era of the Pac-12, you have to play physical football against Stanford or Oregon, and the Sun Devils have yet to do that.
Besides being blown out by Stanford, ASU’s offensive front was stomped by a healthy Notre Dame team and its defensive front was gashed by a physical Wisconsin running game.
That’s why there is no in-depth preview of Stanford-Arizona State. There is no list of keys to watch. This game is going to come down to two groups of young men trying to prove their worth. Arizona State needs to prove that it can be physical against the most physical team in the conference, and the Cardinal offense needs to show that it can play a football game on the road.
It’s that simple. Whichever group of guys does a better job in executing its task will probably win the football game and head to Pasadena for The Granddaddy of Them All. Whichever group falls short will be just another disappointment, another pack of frauds that couldn’t get the job done when it mattered most.
It’s on the players now. The storylines are set. The scenarios are clear. The reward is an unforgettable New Years Day. Now all we can do is wait and see who goes out there and takes it.
Sam Fisher can’t bear the thought of flying back to Stanford for finals week without the Pac-12 title. Let him know what coping mechanisms you do at safisher ‘at’ Stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @SamFisher908.