In what will be a de facto elimination game from the final four of the College Football Playoff, the #17 ranked Utah Utes and #14 ranked Arizona State Sun Devils will clash at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday night in what is slated for a supremely late start.
While both fan bases were cautiously optimistic entering the season, as Week 9 gets underway, each team possesses only a single loss and a potentially clear path to the first ever College Football Playoff if they can run the table on their remaining schedule.
Late last Saturday, both teams survived in crucial situations which they needed to keep their one-loss seasons alive. The wins allowed for the teams to be ranked inside the top 20 of the first ever Playoff rankings.
Earlier this week, two decisive blows were dealt to the hopes of each team's chances for this Saturday night: the Utes lost leading receiver Dres Anderson for the game, and more than likely the remainder of the season, while the Sun Devils announced senior quarterback Taylor Kelly would be the man under center once again, despite opposition from understudy Mike Bercovici.
After beginning the season 3-0 in three decisive victories, the biggest final score the Utes have faced over the past four weeks came in a double overtime victory against the Oregon State Beavers. Quite easily, Utah could have been 7-0, as well as 3-4 if not for some late game execution.
The Sun Devils know all about late game execution. Trailing in the waning moments to USC on the road, Arizona State used a Hail Mary as the final buzzer sounded as Mike Bercovici dropped a prayer from above into the hands of wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Yet, outside of their Hail Mary win and horrific beat down at home at the hands of UCLA, the Sun Devils have won every game by at least two touchdowns.
The similarities don't end there. Both teams boast tailbacks that are explosive in both the running game, as well as the passing game. Arizona State's D.J. Foster may be a bit more balanced, having gained 648 yards on the ground, in addition to 424 through the air for eight total touchdowns. Utah's Devontae Booker has eight touchdowns himself, with 844 yards rushing and 100 receiving.
Booker has been sensational at the start of his Pac-12 career. Each of his four games has seen him go for over one hundred yards rushing, with six touchdowns sprinkled in between. His biggest game all season came back on October 16 in Corvallis as he carried the rock 32 times for an incredible 229 yards to go with three touchdowns.
Things have been nearly exactly opposite for Foster thus far in 2014. Outside of a 147-yard performance against Colorado, over his past four Pac-12 conference games, Foster has gained just 138 yards combined. Since September 13, Foster has touched pay dirt just once.
On the season, Arizona State has tallied up just 12 sacks. Nate Orchard, Utah's defensive end, has collected 11 of his own so far this season. Keep an eye on number eight in white, who has amassed six sacks over the past two games alone.
Slated for a late start even on the West Coast (11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT), the two teams will be waiting all day Saturday before the top-25 collision happens.
The winner holds out hope for a Pac-12 Championship appearance, and a potential spot in the top-10, while the loser looks to recover over the final few weeks of the season.