TEMPE, Ariz. – Sixty minutes.
That’s all that stands in Arizona State’s first trip to the Rose Bowl in 17 years.
Beat Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Sun Devil Stadium Saturday and ASU will end the drought, punching its ticket to the 100th Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2014.
“I find myself thinking about it daily, honestly,” linebacker Carl Bradford said. “I was just talking to a couple of my teammates, ‘Man, we really have one more game to go to the Rose Bowl. Let’s go do this.'”
Fellow linebacker Chris Young, the team’s leading tackler, echoed the same sentiments.
“It’s hard not to think about the Rose Bowl,” he admitted, “but we just got to worry about Stanford right now and just focus. Can’t get overly excited for what we’re playing for. For the most part, it’s exciting to know that we’re playing for the Rose Bowl right now.”
Few expected this.
Yes, the expectations were high coming off of last season, but to be in this position? No way. Certainly not in Todd Graham’s second year as head coach.
“To sit there in August,” Graham said, “I had our guys close their eyes in the team meeting room and said visualize playing the conference championship right out here at Sun Devil Stadium.”
The visualization technique worked.
“Our goal is coming true. We’re starting to picture it,” quarterback Taylor Kelly said. “Coach Graham, like he said, in the first meeting this year that we had in the summer, just close your eyes and picture us walking down the Tillman Tunnel for the Pac-12 Championship Game. All of us closed our eyes and pictured that. It’s starting to come true.”
For this dream to be fully realized, the Sun Devils must defeat the team that handed them their lone conference loss, 42-28 in Palo Alto, Calif.
“It’s a chance for us to redeem ourselves,” said Will Sutton, the two-time Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year.
In that first meeting, Stanford jumped out to a 29-0 halftime advantage and led 39-7 entering the fourth quarter before ASU scored three late touchdowns.
Even given how one-sided the game was, receiver Jaelen Strong immediately afterwards predicted the Sun Devils would see the Cardinal again this season.
“I knew every game from then on we would work hard,” he said. “I believe that we can’t be beat. If we work hard and we have 100 percent ball security I don’t think we can be beat.”
No one has beaten ASU since Notre Dame the first Saturday in October. The Sun Devils have won seven straight, including victories over then-No. 20 Washington and then-No. 14 UCLA, which clinched the South Division.