Pac-12: Oh so close ...

The Pac-12 Conference is out of the national championship picture. C'est la vie. That’s what happens when you go all carnivore on each other with a nine-game conference schedule. Could it have gone differently for the two teams in this week’s Pac-12 championship game? Could either Stanford or Arizona State have altered their paths with one game? One score? One play?

Across the ESPN.com blogosphere today, we’re looking at those oh so close moments across each conference.


Where it all started: The Cardinal came into this season with considerable hype. Quarterback Kevin Hogan was expected to take a big step forward, the defense was going to be nastier than before and there was talk of playing in the Rose Bowl. Not the game -- the stadium -- for the BCS championship game. They opened the season at No. 4 in the AP top 25 and now rest at No. 7 in the BCS rankings.

Where it went wrong: Two spots. The first was a fairly shocking loss to Utah in Salt Lake City. Ironically, it was a semi-turning point for the Cardinal and the start of Utah’s downfall. The Cardinal had a chance to tie and take the lead in the closing moments of the game, but were turned away by a Utah goal line stand. Their second loss came on the heels of a big win over Oregon. Andre Heidari’s 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds left clinched a victory for USC in Los Angeles.

Where it got back on track: Arizona actually got things back on track for the Cardinal when it knocked off Oregon in Tucson on Nov. 23. Because the Cardinal had the tiebreaker over the Ducks, and Oregon finished with a matching 7-2 Pac-12 record, the Cardinal claimed the North title and officially sealed it with a 63-13 win over California.

Arizona State

Where it all started: In obscurity, mostly. The Pac-12 blog had faith that the Sun Devils would capture the South Division, but few others did. The Sun Devils were unranked in the preseason, though they were receiving votes in both the AP and coaches polls. There was a lot of hype and expectations, which is fairly typical at ASU. There was also some national reluctance and skepticism, which is also fairly typical of ASU.

Where it went wrong: You could point to the Stanford game. The Sun Devils were blasted the first 30 minutes and were trailing 39-7 by the end of the third quarter. They rallied in the second half, but were simply outplayed. The Notre Dame game, however, is the one that eats away at Todd Graham. That’s the game the Sun Devils feel like they should have won. If they had, they’d be 11-1 and in the conversation for a BCS at-large berth if they drop the Pac-12 title game.

Where it got back on track: They beat Colorado the next week, but it was when No. 20 Washington came to town that the defense stepped up and started keeping pace with the offense. The Sun Devils held Bishop Sankey to just 22 yards on 13 carries (1.7 average) and limited Keith Price to a QBR of just 17.9. Pre-Notre Dame, the defense was yielding 37.5 points per game against FBS teams. Post-Notre Dame, that average dropped to 21.1 points per game.