Arizona State head coach Todd Graham is no stranger to conference championship games.
During his tenure at Tulsa, Graham’s Golden Hurricane played in back-to-back Conference USA Championship Games. While those games were big, they pale in comparison to Graham’s next challenge.
“Obviously this is the biggest game of my career, and I couldn’t be more excited and motivated,” Graham said of Saturday’s Pac-12 Championship Game at Sun Devil Stadium in a Friday morning interview with Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 620. “This place is going to be electric and you’re going to get the best effort out of the Sun Devils.”
Graham has been preaching about championships since he stepped foot on the ASU campus for the first time almost two years ago. His team is on the doorstep of ASU’s first outright conference crown since the 1996 season, but the second-year coach knows the challenge that lies ahead.
“We’re the contender, these guys are the defending champion,” he said. “We’ve got to be twice as focused, twice as intense. You’ve got to take it from them, and our guys know that.
“Sixty minutes, and if we can somehow, someway figure out how to get this done, we’re going to the Rose Bowl. That would be a dream come true for me and our players.”
In a 10-2 season that has included a seven-game winning streak, the Sun Devils have played only one bad stretch of football — the first half of a 42-28 loss at Stanford in the team’s Pac-12 opener in September. Everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong for ASU in those 30 minutes — special teams gaffes, a costly turnover, a dormant running game and the inability to stop the Cardinal led to a 29-0 deficit.
Graham is thankful to get another chance at head coach David Shaw’s team.
“We’ve played them once, and didn’t play well, played probably our worst half of the year then showed great heart in the second half,” he said. “I’m excited that it’s Stanford. I’m excited that it’s Coach Shaw because I want to go against the best. I’m excited to compete.
“And there’s only one outcome I’m interested in competing for, and that’s winning.”