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CBS Sports writer: Loyalty cost Arizona State a chance at national title

LISTEN: Pete Prisco, CBS Sports NFL Columnist

Pete Prisco earns a living writing about the NFL for

But he’s also passionate about Sun Devil football, having graduated from Arizona State.

Like many who witnessed ASU’s 42-35 loss to Arizona in the annual Territorial Cup game last Friday, Prisco is still wondering why head coach Todd Graham didn’t insert Mike Bercovici in at quarterback over Taylor Kelly any earlier than the third quarter of what amounted to the Pac-12 South championship game.

“Bercovici should have been the quarterback from the time he went in there and won those games,” Prisco told Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday. “How can you look at those two guys and think one is as good as the other? Because (Kelly) can run a little bit? When he came back, he wasn’t even running around that much. If they played Bercovici, they win at Oregon State. If they play Bercovici, they win at Arizona.

“The bottom line is, Graham’s loyalty to Kelly cost him a chance to win a national championship. That’s the way I see it.”

Kelly suffered a foot injury in Arizona State’s third game of the year — a 38-24 win at Colorado — and missed the next three games. Bercovici started in his absence and led the Devils to a 2-1 record, which included a last-second win at USC with a Hail Mary touchdown pass to Jaelen Strong.

In those three starts, Bercovici averaged 414 yards passing per game and threw nine touchdown passes against only two interceptions.

Since returning from injury, Kelly has completed only 56 percent (99-of-176) of his passes for 1,249 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.

Kelly’s running, as Prisco pointed out, wasn’t nearly what it was before the injury. In six games, the senior ran 67 times for 64 yards.

“Would they have beaten Oregon? Probably not,” Prisco said. “But the fact is that if he played Bercovici the whole season, he would have had a chance to play for the national championship.”

Bercovici was handed the keys to the Sun Devil offense with 3:30 remaining in the third quarter and Arizona leading 35-21. After a Drew Riggleman punt, ASU took over at their own 13-yard line.

“That was an interesting decision,” Prisco said. “You’re going to play, but go ahead and play him and put him in there when he’s down 14 points and backed up in his own end.”

Bercovici would throw two touchdown passes while he was in there, but also threw a costly interception that led to Arizona’s final touchdown of the day.