ASU would be in driver’s seat for Pac-12 South title with win over Utah

Oct 11, 2021, 3:45 PM
Arizona State defensive back Jack Jones (0) stomps the ground after missing an interception opportu...

Arizona State defensive back Jack Jones (0) stomps the ground after missing an interception opportunity on a pass intended for Stanford wide receiver Silas Starr (19) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated Stanford 28-10. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE — The No. 18 Arizona State Sun Devils currently boast both the best overall and conference record in the Pac-12.

At 5-1 (3-0), ASU controls its own destiny for the South Division crown and a trip to the conference championship game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas to determine who will represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl.

And with that comes expectations, especially given the talent and senior leadership head coach Herm Edwards and Co. have on both sides of this football team.

“It’s not about my expectations,” Edwards said at his weekly Monday press conference. “It’s their team. It’s their expectations. This team belongs to the players. What do they want to accomplish? They’re sitting in a position to do whatever they want to accomplish right now. And that’s always a conversation I have with them.”

Arizona State has six regular-season games remaining on the 2021 docket: at Utah, vs. Washington State, vs. USC, at Washington, at Oregon State and vs. Arizona.

A win over the Utes on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium would leave the Sun Devils as the only Pac-12 team remaining that is undefeated in conference play. Utah is currently 2-0 in Pac-12 play this season.

A victory would also put Arizona State in the driver’s seat in the South Division because it would give ASU the head-to-head tiebreakers over Utah and UCLA (2-1 Pac-12), the two teams right behind the Sun Devils in the standings. So theoretically, Arizona State could afford to lose one game and still finish ahead of both the Utes and Bruins.

Utah and UCLA still have to play each other on Oct. 30 — so under the theoretical ASU win over Utah — one of those two teams is guaranteed to have at least two losses in conference play. Factor that in with the fact that both the Utes and Bruins have matchups with the No. 9 Oregon Ducks and it’s possible that the Sun Devils could have a two-game lead over the rest of the Pac-12 South.

And that two-game lead in the standings would realistically be more like three, as ASU could afford to then lose two games in conference play and still finish atop the South Division because of the tiebreakers and due to the fact USC (2-3 Pac-12), Colorado (0-2) and Arizona (0-2) already have multiple conference losses.

On the other side of that coin is what happens if Arizona State loses to Utah on Saturday night. Should that occur, Sun Devils fans would have to hope for Utah to lose twice in their final six conference games — while ASU wins out — in order to earn a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game for the first time since 2013.

“Another Pac-12 game — anything can happen,” Edwards said. “So that’s kind of what we anticipate this week. We play a tough opponent in Utah. They haven’t lost any conference games in the South. They’re kind of sitting like we are sitting right now.”

So although this may technically be a midseason game for ASU, Saturday night’s contest in Salt Lake City could very well end up defining the 2021 Arizona State Sun Devils, a team that has an opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl for only the third time in school history (1987 and 1997).

“I’m on the journey with them. I can give them a road map, but they have to drive the car,” he said. “I’ve never seen a coach go play. Coach can’t play. Coach gets them prepared, he does everything he can to get them ready to play and then they have to actually play. So it’s whatever they want to do.

“This group of guys, I know what their mentality is: they want to continue to win a game and the most important game is the one this week. I said that from the beginning and it’s never changed. It’s always the next game. Don’t get ahead of yourself. You don’t need to because you can only play one game every week.”

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