After Utah loss, Arizona State still has outside shot at Pac-12 title game

Oct 27, 2021, 7:29 AM
LV Bunkley-Shelton #6 of the Arizona State Sun Devils rushes the ball away from Brandon McKinney #2...
LV Bunkley-Shelton #6 of the Arizona State Sun Devils rushes the ball away from Brandon McKinney #28 and Van Fillinger #7 of the Utah Utes during their game October 13, 2021 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

TEMPE — Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards made a prediction at the beginning of the 2021 college football season: no team in the Pac-12 will go undefeated in conference play.

That was based on history. No Pac-12 team has been perfect under the current format.

It only took five weeks of conference play to make Edwards right.

“Missed opportunities are critical in games, especially in the Pac-12. … Anybody can beat anybody on a Saturday night,” head coach Herm Edwards said Monday. “And so I just think that’s the conference and it’s kind of interesting when you look at it.”

Two weeks ago, ASU had an opportunity to put one foot into the Pac-12 Championship Game if the Sun Devils could have beaten the Utah Utes. Arizona State allowed 28 straight points by Utah in the second half to whiff on that chance.

Now coming off a bye week, the South Division layout isn’t looking as bleak as it was the last time Arizona State played a football game.

That’s because following Utah’s 42-34 loss on the road to Oregon State, the Sun Devils now sit tied with the Utes for the top spot in the division at 3-1. Utah still owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.

With five games to go on the 2021 docket, Edwards and Co. know they still have an enormous opportunity to make a run at the division title to make a Pac-12 Championship Game that comes along with it.

“I think going forward when you look at both sides of it, whether you’re in the South or the North, there’s three or four teams that still — when you look at the conference schedule — have a shot,” Edwards said.

“And that’s what makes it so interesting in Pac-12 play. Everyone has an outside shot if you won some games and we happen to be one of those teams.”

That’s because ASU has a more favorable schedule when compared to Utah’s, as Arizona State only has one team remaining on its schedule that is over .500: Oregon State (5-2).

The Utes play the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night at home and then still have to host the No. 7 Oregon Ducks (6-1) at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Nov. 20. Coincidentally enough, the Oregon-Utah game is on the same night that Arizona State plays Oregon State in Corvallis.

The Sun Devils and Utes sit atop the South Division at 3-1 in Pac-12 play with UCLA (3-2 in conference), and the USC Trojans (2-3) mathematically trailing those leaders.

If ASU can finish with one more win than Utah and hold off the Los Angeles schools, the Sun Devils will both win their second South Division crown and have a chance to play in only the third Rose Bowl in school history.

Edwards sees that perspective with optimism. He wrote his captains a letter stating what he expects from them and what they need to do from a leadership standpoint to help the Sun Devils reach that goal.

“The next five weeks, they need to be leaders,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that because it’s an important part of our season right now as we head down the stretch.

“Every game is important. I mean, every time you win a game these next five, it just gives you momentum. And that’s what we want to do. We want to get our momentum back. We lost it and now we have to go find it again and get it back.”

One of those captains — cornerback Chase Lucas — may have an opportunity to answer his coach’s call this week at home against Washington State, as the senior DB is “ready to play” after missing Arizona State’s last contest with Utah due to injury.

“This is a game that obviously both teams need,” Edwards said. “Got to keep winning in the Pac-12 because when you’re running out of time, you start running out of games. And we know we have five games and this is an important game for us, as well as for them.”

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