If Pac-12 fans somehow needed more proof that the league doesn’t get the respect it deserves nationally, it came this week.
ESPN’s “College GameDay” would rather spend Saturday in Fargo, N.D., than Palo Alto, Calif.
ESPN’s signature college football show will broadcast live from Fargo for North Dakota State’s showdown with Delaware State — the same Delaware State team that lost to Towson 49-7 last weekend — rather than travel to Stanford to see the Cardinal host Arizona State.
How nuts is that?
The Stanford-Arizona State matchup is the only game in college football this weekend that features two ranked teams. Both teams boast quarterbacks on the Davey O’Brien Watch List. The Cardinal and Sun Devils both won bowl games last year.
The Stanford-Arizona State matchup is a big one, even if ESPN would rather hang out on the Red River.
In fact, it was one of the hot topics on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches conference call.
“This is the game our players have looked toward all offseason,” ASU coach Todd Graham said Tuesday. “This is the biggest test we’ve had. It’s a great opportunity for us to take a step forward as a program. It’s a tall order to go into Stanford and be successful. I believe in our team and believe we can do that.”
Added Stanford coach David Shaw: “For Coach Graham to take that program from where it was to where it is now is a big credit to what they’ve done there. It should be a very exciting game.”
The Sun Devils enter Saturday’s game coming off their controversial win over Wisconsin in Tempe.
By now, you know what happened: The Sun Devils led by two, but the Badgers were driving for the win. Their quarterback tried to set up the ball for a game-winning field goal, only to watch an ASU player dive on it, stall and watch the clock run out.
ASU won 32-30, and Sun Devils everywhere rejoiced. The Pac-12 reprimanded the officials for mishandling the finish, but Graham didn’t want to talk about Wisconsin on Tuesday.
“We’ve moved on from that,” Graham said. “Our guys battled. And with all the things we overcame, we were very deserving to win that game.
“We had a tremendous amount of respect for Wisconsin when they were coming in here, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for Stanford. The way they run their program is similar to the way we run our program.”
The Cardinal is coming off a less controversial win. Stanford traveled to Army last weekend and, despite looking sluggish at times, beat the Black Knights 34-20.
Ask both coaches and they’ll tell you Saturday’s game will be won in the trenches. Stanford starts three seniors at the interior offensive line spots and will look to contain ASU All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton.
“It’s not what will be highlighted, but for us that’s the game,” Shaw said. “The game is up front. That’s where it will be decided. If we can block him, which will be tough, we’ll have a chance to complete some passes. If not, he’s going to have a great day.
“That’s the key matchup for the entire game.”
Graham said Sutton is battling a thigh bruise, which has limited him at times, but he will be ready for Saturday’s showdown. The senior practiced on Tuesday.
“He’s the best player we have on defense,” Graham said. “He’s dynamic. He can real easy not practice and say he’s sore, but he practiced every play today. He’s that talented. He doesn’t have to do it, but he busted his tail today. He’s ready to go.”
Sutton will try to disrupt Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan. According to Graham, Hogan is the difference between Stanford and Wisconsin, two teams with similar styles on offense.
“They both take pride in knocking guys off the ball and running downhill,” Graham said. “But the difference is the quarterback is a whole lot better. He reminds me of our quarterback (Taylor Kelly). He’s a guy that can really extend plays. Stanford is as a unique and dynamic team on offense as any in our league.”