Oct 5, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Jaelen Strong (21) catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety Austin Collinsworth (28) in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium. (Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)
TEMPE, Ariz., (C+P) — Notre Dame and Arizona State each have one blemish on their ledger but are still in solid position to be considered for college football’s four-team playoff. The winner of Saturday’s matchup (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC) keeps its title hopes breathing, while the loser will have to wait ’till next year.
When these teams played each other last year, Notre Dame pulled out a 37-34 victory as a 6.5-point underdog. That game was at a neutral location while this year’s matchup is in Tempe.
The Sun Devils have won four straight following their loss to the UCLA and have covered three of their last four. However, they are 2-3 ATS in games started by QB Taylor Kelly. They have also stayed UNDER the total in their last three.
Notre Dame is 2-3 SU but 4-1 ATS in its last five games as a road underdog, dating back to 2012. Since the beginning of Brian Kelly’s tenure as coach in 2010, the Irish are 6-2 ATS when getting points on the road.
A win over Notre Dame would give the Sun Devils another quality win with two more opportunities (at Arizona Nov. 12 and a potential trip to the Pac-12 title game) to convince the selection committee of their worth. Similarly, the Irish still have a date with a solid Louisville squad (Nov. 22) before closing out the season against USC the following week.
The 7-1 Arizona State Sun Devils now control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South and even in the national playoff picture. After Arizona lost to UCLA, and ASU beat Utah, the Sun Devils are the only one-loss team in the conference besides Oregon. If Arizona State can beat Oregon State, Washington State, and Arizona, they will meet the Pac-12 North winner (Oregon) in the Pac-12 title game.
This year’s Arizona State team has loftier goals if they can defeat Notre Dame Saturday though. The winner of No. 10 Notre Dame and No. 9 Arizona State will be squarely in the playoff discussion. This is an unexpected surprise for Arizona State fans, who just two years ago were excited about simply being bowl-eligible.
After winning the Pac-12 South in 2013 and starting 2014 off 7-1, Arizona State is ranked in the top 20 in November two seasons in a row for the first time the 1996-97 seasons. Excitement for Arizona State hasn’t been this high since Jake Plummer roamed the campus. Graham’s mantra of character and discipline are paying dividends at Arizona State. Taking over Dennis Erickson’s mess that led the Pac-12 in penalties, Graham has placed a great deal of importance on no penalties, ball security, and graduating his players.
At the end Erickson’s last season, Arizona State was the second most penalized team in the nation, which wasn’t surprising considering their leader was Vontaze Burfict. In just one season, Graham transformed the Sun Devils into the least penalized team in the Pac-12 in 2012. This season, Arizona State is again being flagged the least amount of any Pac-12 team.
Aside from Florida State, the Sun Devils are the best team on Notre Dame’s 2014 schedule. Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Louisville and USC are all teams that scared many Irish fans and had the ESPN talking heads predicting losses for the Irish before the season, but have been disappointing this fall. The Sun Devils have outperformed the aforementioned teams to earn a playoff ranking of No. 9, and are even 2.5 point favorites against Notre Dame.
Notre Dame has remained stuck at No. 10 mainly because of the fact they have zero impressive victories. They almost beat undefeated Florida State on the road but came up short, and the teams in front of them simply have higher ranking wins thus far. The caliber of wins for each team is perhaps the main factor in determining the rankings, along with number of losses.
A win against Arizona State would go a long way in showing the College Football Playoff committee they are a better team than their current ranking would suggest.
In addition, many of the top ranking playoff teams, other than Notre Dame and Arizona State, play each other this weekend. Those games include No. 4 Oregon at No. 17 Utah, No. 5 Alabama at No. 16 LSU, No. 7 Kansas State at No. 6 TCU and No. 14 Ohio State at No. 8 Michigan State. There could be movement across the top 10 next week, and this is a great opportunity for Notre Dame to move up the ranks if they can obtain the victory.
There is a lot on the line this weekend for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and his team. If they were to fall to Arizona State and have two losses on their record, the ultimate goal of making the College Football Playoff would almost certainly be over. The Fighting Irish fanbase has been loud in voicing their displeasure with Notre Dame’s spot in the rankings each week, and this upcoming game against the Sun Devils is the team’s chance to prove the doubters wrong and register their biggest win of the year.