It's been three years since Stanford and Arizona State last met on the field, and although that 26-10 ASU win was rather forgettable for the Cardinal and a statement game for the Sun Devils, the two teams went in opposite directions in the seasons that followed. Stanford concluded the 2014 season with a win in the Foster Farms Bowl, then won the Rose Bowl the following year and the Sun Bowl in 2016.
The Sun Devils, meanwhile, have faltered. They finished strong in 2014, capping a 10-3 season with a win in the Sun Bowl, but they went 6-7 in 2015 and 5-7 last year, putting coach Todd Graham squarely on the hot seat. Last week's surprising win over the Oregon Ducks may have temporarily saved Graham's job, but the vultures are definitely circling.
Heading into this game, the focus for Stanford football, of course, is the quarterback position. David Shaw wouldn't comment this week on the injury Keller Chryst suffered against UCLA, but all outward signs seemed to indicate a concussion, which would place him the concussion protocol, leaving Ryan Burns and K.J. Costello as the only viable options this week. Based on his performance thus far, Costello would obviously be the preferred option, and while many fans were bothered that Shaw didn't declare him the starter immediately, his choice not to isn't surprising at all. Shaw has never been quick to change quarterbacks midseason, but now he doesn't have to do anything official. Costello can start in place of the injured Chryst without any announcement from Shaw. Should the sophomore continue to have success, Shaw's eventual decision will be that much easier.
So what are we to expect this week? The Arizona State defense has played well against the run, holding Oregon's Royce Freeman under a hundred yards last week in the Sun Devils' surprising win over the Ducks, but I think this weekend will be a different story. Last week we got a look at what a properly appointed Stanford offense can do, and I expect we'll see more of the same on Saturday -- a steady run game punctuated by an occasional lightning strike from Bryce Love or a downfield attack by Costello, and lots of time of possession. That last part will be important, because Arizona State's hope for victory lies in its passing game, led by quarterback Manny Wilkins and his two game-breaking wide receivers, N'Keal Harry and Jalen Harvey. It will be critical for the Cardinal to keep that trio on the sidelines as much as possible, especially considering the first-half suspension of Stanford cornerback Alijah Holder.