(Photo: ASU Athletics)
The biggest game of the year for Arizona State is finally here. After a summer of back-and-forth jabs about how long the series would go on and whether or not Notre Dame would come to Tempe, the two teams finally get to settle their differences on the field inside AT&T Stadium in Dallas.
The Sun Devils could become the first team ever to defeat USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks. In 13 previous attempts, nobody has ever done it.
The Sun Devils are nearly a touchdown favorite in Vegas, and it’s Arizona State who is ranked, while Notre Dame sits on the outside looking in. This is a huge opportunity for Arizona State as a university, not just a football team. Expect a classic in Dallas.
Arizona State wins if: They keep doing what they’ve been doing for the last six quarters. Since halftime at Stanford, the Sun Devils have scored 90 points. It won’t matter how poorly the defense plays if the Sun Devils keep that pace up.
Jaelen Strong and Marion Grice will be the focus, but the Sun Devils can win without scoring 60 if they can effectively use D.J. Foster and Chris Coyle. Taylor Kelly has quietly been one of the best quarterbacks in the country this season, and if he can spread the love again, it will be a good night for the Sun Devils.
Arizona State is in trouble if: Notre Dame can establish the run. The Sun Devils still can’t stop the run, and the Irish have three good running backs. If George Atkinson III, in particular, can get going, look out. The Sun Devils will be in for a far more physical game than they might be expecting.
The other thing the Sun Devils can’t do is allow Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt to control the game for Notre Dame’s defense. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell must find a way to keep those two monster defensive lineman on their heels, guessing directions and plays. If those two get going up-field, Kelly is in for a long night, and Grice will have nightmares about this game.
Arizona State loses if: Irish quarterback Tommy Rees beats them. Rees has been bad this year, and in his last two games has completed less than 40 percent of his passes. The Sun Devils want Rees to try and beat them. Nobody thinks he can.
But if Rees gets going and can find a rhythm with stud receivers T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels, the dynamic of this game shifts immensely. Tommy Rees having a career game will mean a loss for the Sun Devils, and an interesting post-game press conference from Todd Graham.
Prediction: Arizona State wins, 44-27. I don’t think Rees can beat the Sun Devils, and I think the defense has another big game in the turnover department. Meanwhile, I have a feeling that this is the week that Arizona State finally has some success against the run. I also feel like Grice is going to have a big game in front of his home-state crowd. This could be the game when the Sun Devils finally make a national statement.