The Early Glimpse: Cougs vs. Sun Devils

DON'T KNOW ABOUT you, but Thursday night's Halloween game between Washington State and Arizona State seems like an awfully big opportunity for the Cougars. It's the country's Thursday night marquee game, a chance for the Cougars to show how much they've developed in two years under Mike Leach. But more importantly, this is a prime spot to win a game and inch closer to bowl eligibility.

Let's face it: bowl eligibility is the measuring stick of the 2013 season. Get to six wins (or more), it's a successful season. Less than six wins, it's not a successful season.

Four chances remain: Arizona State (5-2), at Arizona (4-2), Utah (4-3), at Washington (4-3). No gimmes, but no Top 25 (as of right now) teams. Win two, and some bowl is likely to want the Cougs.

That's a legitimate sign of progress. Not to mention that it should advance the program. Go bowling, and it means the Cougars get an extra three weeks of practice, a great time to get some quality work for young players and backups. I don't know how much the extra practice means to a football program, but it can't hurt. And the taste of postseason for a WSU program that hasn't been to a bowl game in 10 years is sure to fuel motivation for the offseason.

You could make a case that Arizona State is WSU's toughest remaining game. Also, the easiest. The Sun Devils are 5-0 at home, but 0-2 away from Tempe (they played a neutral site game vs. Notre Dame). ASU's worst game was its performance at Stanford. But the Sun Devils have had some good moments though at home – Washington, the second half against USC.

Arizona State isn't Oregon. Probably not even Oregon State. The opportunity to get to 5-4 and one win away from bowl eligibility is there. Are the Cougars game enough to seize the day?

Cougs vs Sun Devils

The kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Martin Stadium.


The line: Sun Devils by 12.5

The series: Sun Devils lead 24-13-2

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About Arizona State: Like the Cougars, ASU has a second-year coach in Todd Graham. The Sun Devils seem to be an improved team in year two. In the Pac-12, they're second in scoring offense (45.7 points), third in total offense (509.1 yards) and second in total defense (349.3 yards). But, it must be repeated, most of ASU's work has happened in the sun-drenched confines of Sun Devil Stadium.

This will be Arizona State's first venture into decidedly different weather conditions. The projected temperature in Pullman for Thursday night is the high 30s.

The Sun Devils' best wins came over Wisconsin, USC and Washington. The one wart is the 42-28 loss at Stanford that was nowhere near as close as the score indicates, (ASU scored 21 points in the fourth quarter.)

Arizona State's offense is triggered by quarterback Taylor Kelly, fourth in Pac-12 in passing at 319.4 yards per game. Kelly has completed 173 of 279 passes for 2,236 yards and 18 touchdowns. After Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Oregon State's Sean Mannion, a case could be made that Kelly is the Pac-12's next best quarterback.

Kelly's favorite target is sophomore Jaelin Strong, with 45 catches for 685 yards and four touchdowns. Also to watch is D.J. Foster, with 36 catches for 390 yards. The Sun Devils have a versatile running back in Marion Grice, who has run for 679 yards and 11 touchdowns. Grice also has 33 receptions and six receiving scores.

If penalties mean anything, Arizona State appears to be a disciplined club. The Sun Devils have attracted a league-low 25 penalty flags through seven games. As for weaknesses, Arizona State ranks last in the Pac-12 in punting, with a net average of 30 yards.

The series: The Sun Devils throttled WSU's Air Raid on the way to a 46-7 win last year in Tempe. Connor Halliday completed only 13 of 33 passes for 173 yards against ASU. Meanwhile, Kelly connected on 20 of 23 throws for 246 yards and four touchdowns. The Sun Devils led 32-0 at halftime.

However, the last time Arizona State visited Pullman, the Cougars had their way as Halliday passed for 494 yards in a 37-27 win. The Sun Devils have won eight of the past nine games against WSU. Arizona State leads the series 24-13-2.

Familiar faces: Arizona State's most prominent WSU connection is sophomore defensive back Jordan Simone, who spent one year with the Cougars as a walk on before leaving the program. He is not listed in any stat categories on ASU's official sire. His brother, Gino, played four years at receiver for Washington State. Other ASU in-state connections are sophomore tight end Alex Bykovskly (Federal Way), junior punter Dom Vizzare (Tacoma) and senior outside linebacker Chris Young (Seattle). Among the Sun Devil coaches, co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball had two stints on Washington State's coaching staff.

Read Nick Daschel's occasional Pac-12 ramblings at

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