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A-S Who? Stanford's First Ranked Opponent

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Shayne Skov and the Stanford linebackers have yet to throw their patented “party in the backfield.” ASU’s hyped passing offense will provide the perfect opportunity. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.
Shayne Skov and the Stanford linebackers have yet to throw their patented “party in the backfield.” ASU’s hyped passing offense will provide the perfect opportunity. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

There was an open seat next to that girl, the gorgeous girl I saw around the library — my library crush.

I took it. As she perused the New York Times, I thought about mentioning one of the headlines to her, maybe striking up a conversation. Something like, “I am going to be a journalist, you know.” She would be impressed. Instead the professor entered and the students hushed.

Class began, but another girl walked in a few minutes late. She’s the double-take kind of girl, blonde and beautiful in ways that made Paul Kemp from Rum Diaries say, “Why did she have to happen? Just when I was doing so well without her.”

She apologized, shy and embarrassed about being late, explaining she couldn't find the classroom. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a movie star; she’s superwoman. I formulate a plan for after class. I can say something like, “Wait, you like English? I like English!”

I forgot something…. or someone. My crush next to me.

Infatuation tricks memory. The new always seems better than the old.

****

Arizona State is ranked 24th in the country. That’s exciting for a team that hasn’t been ranked since Nov. 5, 2011, during Brock Osweiler’s tenure. They are getting hype for beating Wisconsin and Sacramento State. But the Wisconsin win was more a Badgers blunder than a Sun Devils arrival. And, well, Sacramento State … come on. But the new kids on the block are the Pac-12 sleeper. Wins are going to start coming.

But we’re forgetting something … Stanford. The Cardinal are the Sun Devils' next opponent.

Stanford has quietly gone 2-0 and slid from the cover of Sports Illustrated and the AP's preseason No. 4 to what feels like a shaky No. 5. You’d be hard-pressed to find mention of them anywhere. In fact, the most current mention of Stanford has been the dispute between Richard Sherman and Jim Harbaugh.

I’m not a believer yet, but there are some good reasons for hype machine building the case for ASU. Quarterback Taylor Kelly looks a lot like a previous Stanford opponent, San Jose State quarterback David Fales — but with a much stronger surrounding cast. Kelly has helped ASU throw for the eighth-most passing yards in the NCAA. His play, however, does not match his stats. I was surprised to see him miss the easy throws and hit the hard ones. He’s had five touchdowns this season, but none of them came during the Wisconsin game. Just an interception.

Senior running back Marion Grice is a smart runner. He leads the Sun Devils in rushing and is a close second in receiving. Because Grice ignites the offense, Stanford’s defense will key on him. The Kelly-Grice punch finally will test a blue-cheese Stanford defense that gets nastier each year.

Arizona State’s Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year winner, Will Sutton, will test the Tunnel Workers Union. He’s bigger, yet more nimble than ever.

But I’m here to remind you Stanford is legit. Admittedly, Stanford’s first half against Army disappointed me. The team looked so excited to run up the score on an Army team that they forget to hold onto the football and shut down the opponent's rushing game. Both have been Stanford’s MO during their rise to dominance.

There has been a lot of turnover between these two teams since the last time they played — a 17-14 Stanford victory in the 2010 season — and so Arizona State could have used element of surprise. But the media blew their horns and threw the confetti prematurely. Stanford sees them coming and as David Shaw says, preparation wins championships.

If Kevin Hogan, Tyler Montgomery and Ty Gaffney find the same grove they had during the Army game, Stanford should cruise through this one. Those three players have not so quietly helped Stanford stay at the No. 5 spot. Arizona State and Sutton will find ways to stump the talented triage, but not the whole game. Montgomery is on pace for 1,416 yards receiving and Gaffney is set for 1,266 rushing. Some say that Stanford has been running vanilla offenses and defenses to keep a poker face. Whether that's true or not, Stanford will approach this game with increased intensity on both sides of the ball. This might be the game where Hogan and Shayne Skov show the nation how scared they should be.

The upcoming opponents may be easier, but Hogan is just warming up his arm and the linemen look like they are just getting started. Another Alabama-Stanford comparison may be coming to an ESPN affiliate near you soon. Both teams are known for their defense, yet their offense is going to win them the division.

My prediction: Stanford 34, Arizona 27

Follow Henry McKenna on Twitter @McKennAnalysis