ASU Sun Devils prove good as anyone in the Pac-12
Arizona State Sun Devils defensive back Armand Perry (13) celebrates with defensive lineman Marcus Hardison (1) after sacking Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson (7) during the first half at Sun Devil Stadium. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
TEMPE, Ariz., (C+P) — Arizona State proved Saturday night that they deserve consideration for the College Football Playoff after a 19-16 overtime victory over #20 Utah at Sun Devil Stadium.
Arizona State watched as one of the nation’s best kickers missed not one, but two attempts in overtime.
The Sun Devils’ kicker is pretty good, too, and he made it from nearly the same spot, putting them in control of the Pac-12 South, not the Utes.
Zane Gonzalez kicked a 36-yard field goal in overtime for his fourth field goal and Arizona State overcame an uneven performance to beat Utah (6-2, 3-1, No. 17 CFP, No. 18 AP) 19-16 Saturday night.
The Utes went home still day dreaming of how good they will never be in the Pac-12.
And just like that, we have Pac-12 clarity. Or potential clarity, which some fussbudgets might insist is nothing like clarity.
After impressively exorcising its Stanford demons a day after All Hallows’ Eve, Oregon owns a decisive lead in the Pac-12 North Division and is likely to earn a promotion Tuesday into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings. If the Ducks win out, they are all but certain to earn a berth in the inaugural four-team playoff.
Arizona State will have a large say in whether Oregon is good enough for the Playoff, and at the moment, Arizona State isn’t something Oregon should take lightly. The Sun Devils have as much right to a Playoff bid as the Quack Attack! After all, what separates Oregon from Arizona State this season, those glow-in-the-dark uniforms?
And if the Ducks letup, starting with what might be a tricky trip to Utah Saturday, their playoff hopes could go poof, and all that post-Arizona loss hand-wringing would recommence in Eugene.
It’s not all in writing for Arizona State at this point, either. The Sun Devils still have a date with in-state rival, Arizona November 28. Then there is always the whole “if Arizona State beats Oregon or Oregon beats Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game” then who gets a Playoff bid, anybody?
If we contract from the inexorably forward-thinking nature of college football analysis, however, we see two teams asserting themselves in ways that just a few weeks back seemed unlikely. Recall: Oregon’s offensive line was once a shambles and Arizona State couldn’t stop anybody with a rebuilt defense.
It will be interesting to see how ASU responds against Notre Dame. The Sun Devils lost at Notre Dame 37-34 last season in an oddly flat performance. While losing to the Fighting Irish won’t affect the Sun Devils’ position in the South, it probably would eliminate them from the national discussion, even if they went on to win the Pac-12. Losing to Notre Dame, which has already beaten Stanford, would also hurt the Pac-12’s overall Q-rating while bolstering the Irish’s chances to take a coveted playoff spot.
As for the South race, the Sun Devils have a far more forgiving schedule ahead than Arizona and UCLA. The Wildcats have four remaining conference games, including a visit to Utah, and UCLA has Washington, USC and Stanford on the slate. USC, which lost to the Sun Devils on a Hail Mary pass, has only two remaining conference games — California and at UCLA — before concluding with a visit from Notre Dame.
In the end, however, the winners get the headlines, and Oregon and Arizona State have made themselves the Pac-12’s headlining teams. Now, can they get to a Pac-12 championship game Dec. 5 without suffering another blemish, thereby making the title game, in effect, a national quarterfinal that also crowns a Pac-12 Coach of the Year?