Pac-12 Championship Preview

Stanford @ Arizona State  Saturday December 7th, 7:45 EST - ESPN

Back in September when Stanford smoked Arizona State 42-28, nobody would have thought that ASU would make it out of a “weak” Pac-12 South, let alone be favored in a rematch. But then they got Lane Kiffin fired, lost a close one to Notre Dame, and generally dominated, in large part because of breakout NFL prospects Jaelen Strong, Marion Grice, Chris Young, and Osahon Irabor. Will Sutton and Carl Bradford were already on NFL draft boards, but these guys are the ones who have really improved their stock. Strong especially. The JC transfer has turned out to be one of the best receivers in the Pac-12, if not the country. He’s big, strong and fast, and has great hands, in short he’s built for the NFL. And with Marion Grice out, Strong will be counted on to have a monster game against a tough Stanford D. Stanford’s defense will pressure Taylor Kelly from all angles. Trent Murphy will come from the outside, Shayne Skov from the inside, and AJ Tarpley from the deer blind that he likes to hang out in. It’s going to be interesting to see how Kelly handles it. Will he makes the mistakes that he did in the first game, 2 INTs and a blocked pooch punt? Or will he step up and find his safety valves: DJ Foster and Chris Coyle? A lot of this will depend on how the Stanford safeties, Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards, cover their assignments. Both are NFL caliber DBs, but are generally lost in the conversation when discussing Stanford’s defense. Each could improve their stock by coming up with a big play.

On the other side of the ball, Stanford will run their 1952 offense and try to wear down Arizona State’s defenders. And why not? They’ve got 4 future NFLers in David Yankey, Kevin Danser, Andrus Peat and Cameron Fleming. It will be up to Will Sutton to hold his ground, and let the LBs punish Gaffney. If they can hold up, and force Kevin Hogan to convert 3rd and longs, they they are going to be in good shape. Carl Bradford, Chris Young, and Oshahon Irabor are all dangerous blitz options that could cause the Cardinal problems. Any one of these guys could improve their draft stock, by stepping up and making a game-changing play. There is NFL talent all over the field, and it will be an opportunity for guys to show they belong.

Arizona State Players to Watch: Taylor Kelly QB #10 JR -- Marion Grice RB #1 SR (OUT) -- Chris Coyle TE #87 SR – Jaelen Strong WR #21 SO -- Will Sutton DT #90 SR -- Carl Bradford WLB #52 JR – Chris Young OLB #5 SR -- Osahon Irabor CB #24 SR -- Alden Darby SS #4 SR

Stanford Players to Watch: Kevin Hogan QB #8 SO -- David Yankey LG #54 JR -- Cameron Fleming RT #73 JR -- Kevin Danser RG #76 SR -- Ben Gardner DE #49 SR (OUT) -- Henry Anderson DE #91 JR -- Trent Murphy OLB #93 SR -- Shayne Skov ILB #11 SR -- AJ Tarpley ILB #17 JR -- Jordan Richardson SS #8 JR -- Ed Reynolds FS #29 JR -- Alex Carter CB #25 SO

Key Matchups: Sutton v. Yankey/Danser -- Strong v. Carter – Bradford v. Peat --Coyle v. Richardson