It's still Stanford's Pac-12, lock, stock and barrel
The idea that Arizona State was going to win Saturday night's Pac-12 Championship Game seemed laughable by the end.
Sure, the Cardinal had thoroughly dominated the two teams' regular-season meeting, "only" winning by 14 after taking their foot off the pedal in the second half. Sure, the Cardinal have been grinding pure spread no-huddle teams like Arizona State into dust for the better part of the past four seasons. Sure, those last three seasons all ended in a BCS berth, while the Sun Devils haven't played in the Rose Bowl since 1996.
But whatever, man, the regular season game was in Palo Alto; the championship game was in Tempe, where the Sun Devils were undefeated this season. And the Sun Devils had improved by leaps and bounds, entering the game on a seven-game winning streak and coming off a 37-point beatdown of Arizona. And we all knew that they key to beating Stanford was -- like Utah and USC earlier in the year -- a strong defensive line. And even if Will Sutton, Jaxon Hood, Davon Coleman and Co. didn't play particularly well the first go-round, they were bound to play better this time. Right?
Right! Which is why, in a truly stunning display of prescience, all seven of CBSports.com's experts picked Arizona State to win the game. It was a slam-dunk! A can't miss proposal! A sure thing!
And of course, by the time Tyler Gaffney had rumbled for a 69-yard touchdown run on the game's opening drive, it was clear that nothing had changed from the regular season meeting -- that nothing, really, has changed since Jim Harbaugh first led the Cardinal to the Orange Bowl in 2010.
Did the Cardinal once again bludgeon their opponent into submission on the ground? Oh my, yes. 240 yards rushing, 133 of them from Gaffney in his typically effective battering ram role, and vast tracts of time milked off the clock as the Sun Devil offense stewed on the sideline.
Did the Cardinal once again make just enough plays in the passing game to brutally punish their opponent from cheating too hard towards the run? 12.5 yards per pass attempt tells you most of the story. The 78-yard pass to Devon Cajuste when backed up on the Cardinal's own 5 in the fourth quarter -- sealing the game for good -- tells you the rest of it.
Did the Cardinal once again laugh at the idea their savagely physical defense would struggle with a supposedly quicker spread opponent? The Sun Devils gained a miserable 4.6 yards per-play, finished with just seven points over the game's final 56 minutes, and were shut out in the second half.
Not that they didn't come close in the third quarter; they reached 2nd-and-3 at the Stanford 13, for instance. Incomplete, loss of 1, missed FG. Next drive, they faced 3rd-and-goal from the 1. QB sneak ... stuffed. (Shayne Skov went full airborne over the line to help stop this ... and it probably wasn't even necessary.) 4th-down handoff ... stuffed.
The names change: Luck to Hogan, Gerhart to Gaffney, DeCastro to Yankey, Thomas to Murphy. But nothing about the results do, whether it's regular or postseason, Oregon or Arizona State, 2011 or 2013. This is Stanford's league now, lock, stock and barrel. And maybe the experts will remember that next time.
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