Arizona St.-Oregon St. Preview
Coach Todd Graham has been consistent about voicing his desire to build Arizona State into a national championship contender since he arrived three years ago.
Now his seventh-ranked Sun Devils are in their best position yet following a high-stakes win last weekend.
Arizona State looks to continue its climb in the rankings in a stretch against the Pac-12 North's two bottom teams, though it will have to start with the program's first road win over Oregon State in nine years Saturday night.
After earning their first bowl victory since 2005 in Graham's first season, the Sun Devils (8-1, 5-1) went 10-4 en route to the Pac-12 South title in 2013.
They've continued to take steps forward this year and are back atop the South, rebounding from a 62-27 loss to then-No. 11 UCLA on Sept. 25 with five consecutive victories - four against ranked opponents.
The most notable performance to date came last Saturday, racing out to a 31-point first-half lead before holding off then-No. 8 Notre Dame in an eye-opening 55-31 home win.
"It definitely has to be right there at the top (of our wins)," Graham said. "But our top priority and goal is to win the Pac-12 championship, the Rose Bowl, and then obviously the national championship and we haven't accomplished those goals yet and we have to move on in the locker room and get ready for Oregon State."
Unranked after falling to the Bruins, Graham's team moved up four more spots in the latest AP poll and to No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
After this visit to Oregon State (4-5, 1-5), Arizona State returns home to face three-win Washington State on Nov. 22 before closing the regular season against rival Arizona in Tucson. If they get through that stretch unblemished, the Sun Devils will face third-ranked Oregon in the conference title game with a potential trip to the four-team playoff on the line.
"All the pieces of the puzzle are coming together," running back D.J. Foster said. "It's a sight to see."
The Sun Devils should be able to get their offense in high gear as they try to snap a four-game losing streak in Corvallis, where they haven't won since 2005. The Beavers have given up 40.7 points per game in their last three and more than 500 total yards in two straight.
They're hoping to avoid a fifth consecutive loss after allowing Washington State redshirt freshman Luke Falk to throw for 471 yards and five touchdowns in last Saturday's 39-32 home defeat.
"All we have to know is these (losing streaks) happen in sports and not let it get to us, even if it's hard to swallow," said senior tailback Terron Ward, whose Beavers now look to avoid dropping four straight home games for the first time since 1995.
Ward ran for a career-high 146 yards in a 36-26 home win over the Sun Devils in 2012, but was limited to 11 yards on seven carries in a 30-17 loss at Tempe last year.
Foster will try to build on his first 100-yard effort since Week 3 as he faces an Oregon State team that surrendered 673 on the ground over a three-game stretch before taking on pass-happy Washington State.
Taylor Kelly is coming off his best performance in three games since returning from a foot injury. The senior connected on 17 of 28 for 224 yards with three touchdowns and one interception against the Irish.
Kelly has struggled in the past two meetings with Oregon State, throwing for a total of 336 yards with one score and three picks.
"We have a quarterback that I believe in more than anyone that I have ever coached," Graham said. "This is the best offensive line we've had since we've been here, and I think we're bigger and maybe at this point, better as a unit defensively than we have been since we've been here."
The Sun Devils had given up 12.0 points per game in their previous three and played well last Saturday before allowing 28 unanswered points. They rank second in the league against the pass (231.2 yards per game) heading into this matchup with Oregon State's Sean Mannion, who owns the Pac-12 record for career passing yards with 12,873.
The senior has completed 70.9 percent of his attempts for 739 yards in the last two games, hitting sophomore Victor Bolden 21 times for 245 yards.
Mannion, though, has thrown eight interceptions in two career meetings with the Sun Devils - both losses in Tempe.