Three and Out: Arizona State starts hot, closes strong to top Notre Dame

Arizona State beats Notre Dame 55-31 to boost College Football Playoff chances.
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State students camped out at the beginning of the week for the best seats to watch the Sun Devils play Notre Dame. As is the case with any group of students camping out all week, you've got a lot of time to kill. Some students brought TVs and played NBA 2K15, while others decided to go tanning. One guy had a badminton racket and hit a birdie to a friend without a racket.

Their wait was well rewarded. After beating Notre Dame 55-31 on Saturday afternoon, the Sun Devils moved to 8-1 and improved their résumé for the College Football Playoff committee. 

Here are three quick thoughts from the game:

1. Meet your playoff contender in Tempe

As’s very own Lindsay Schnell wrote this week, the Sun Devils’ “path to the playoff is clear, even if Arizona State is again getting largely left out of the national conversation.” The conversation can’t ignore the Sun Devils any longer, not after their matinee showing against the Fighting Irish. Arizona State raced to a 34-3 lead and used a late surge to squash Notre Dame.

Coach Todd Graham’s squad has been very impressive outside of a 62-27 loss to UCLA on Sept. 25, and it should be favored in matchups with Oregon State (Nov. 15) and Washington State (Nov. 22) in the coming weeks. If it avoids a letdown game, it'll look to lock up the Pac-12 South in a clash at Arizona on Nov. 28.

The idea of controlling one’s destiny can be frightening or invigorating. We’ll see how Arizona State handles that reality over the next few weeks.

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2. Everett Golson made several costly mistakes

Notre Dame quarterback Golson was garnering some Heisman Trophy buzz earlier this season. That hype is all but gone following his effort at Arizona State

Golson went 22 of 41 for 446 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. While he had some signature moments, he made several backbreaking mistakes, including the pick-six he threw to Damarious Randall early in the second quarter. 

The senior quarterback regained his footing in second half and led four touchdown drives, temporarily bringing the Irish back to within three points. That is, until he threw a pick-six to Lloyd Carrington that should’ve been caught by his receiver. 

3. Jaelen Strong is unstoppable

Since bursting on the scene with 678 yards in his first six games for Arizona State last season, Strong has been one of the best wideouts in college football. He had 136 receiving yards with a touchdown in a 37-34 loss to Notre Dame last year, and he made five grabs for 58 yards with a score against the Irish on Saturday. Strong now has seven touchdowns in his past five games.

Strong is the complete package as a receiver, boasting good top-end speed, great body control and the intelligence to match. He told earlier in the week that he has a photographic memory, so it’s easy for him to learn the playbook, affording him additional time to study opposing defenses and their tendencies. 

The junior from Philadelphia may have been able to make even more big plays had Arizona State not gone ultra conservative with its second-half play-calling. Still, he made his presence felt and showed why he’s a potential first-round draft pick if he declares for next spring’s NFL draft.

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