TEMPE, Ariz. — If head coach Todd Graham had his way, then he would be preparing for Notre Dame rather than Stanford this week.
“I would rather play the non-conference teams first (and then open Pac-12 play),” he said.
Of course, the schedule does not set up that way. It sets up this way: ASU plays its conference opener at No. 5 Stanford Saturday, its conference home opener versus USC on Sept. 28, and then follows with a meeting against Notre Dame on Oct. 5 at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Couldn’t it be argued though that facing Stanford, a big, physical team, rather than Notre Dame on the heels of a victory over Wisconsin, another big, physical team, is advantageous to the Sun Devils?
“Wisconsin is very similar to Stanford, similar philosophies and styles,” Graham said.
Senior linebacker Steffon Martin referenced boxing when comparing Wisconsin and Stanford.
“It’s like we just fought Mike Tyson last week and now we’re up against Muhammad Ali with the schedule that we have going on,” he told Arizona Sports 620’s Burns and Gambo earlier in the week. “Everybody says Stanford and Wisconsin are basic (offensively), but honestly teams that only have four or five plays are teams that are so good at executing those four or five plays, so it’s about being in your right gap and not making mental mistakes or having any critical errors.
“Yeah, this is definitely going to be another heavyweight fight even though we just got done with one.”
The one main difference in this bout, however, is the quarterback.
“So far we haven’t seen a quarterback like Stanford’s quarterback yet,” junior linebacker Carl Bradford said of Kevin Hogan. “He’s a really talented guy, coming into his second year. He’s very mobile. He can throw the ball very well. We can’t take him lightly.”
Yes, Stanford will run the football — they average 200 yards per game. They will also throw the football, averaging 206 yards per game behind one of the more accurate arms in the league. Hogan ranks sixth in the conference in passing efficiency. He matched his career high with three touchdowns against Army last week.
“I watch their offense and it is very modern,” Graham said. “It is a pro-style offense that is very efficient in making you defend sideline to sideline and goal line to goal line, but their identity is physical first. It is very different, similar to Wisconsin, but I think the difference is the complexity in the passing game.”