Something to prove

Despite not playing this past weekend, Arizona State has climbed to its highest AP ranking in 11 years.

California, meanwhile, has lost its last two games, falling to its lowest ranking all season.

The seventh-ranked Sun Devils look to remain unbeaten and continue their national title push when they open a difficult portion of their schedule Saturday by hosting the No. 18 Golden Bears, the defending Pac-10 Conference co-champions.

Oddsmakers from Bodog.com have made Arizona State -3 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 62% of bets for this game have been placed on California +3 (View College Football bet percentages).

Four losses by top 10 teams this past weekend - including then-No. 10 California's defeat - allowed Arizona State (7-0, 4-0) to move up five spots in the AP poll to No. 7, its highest ranking since ending the 1996 season at No. 4. The Sun Devils also jumped four spots in the BCS standings to No. 4, their highest spot ever on that list.

"I'm happy we're 7-0. I'm happy that we're recognized," Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson said. "As we started out the year, I told our players we just have to get to 1-0, then we have to get 2-0, and that's all we've ever focused on here. That's all we're focusing on now, to try to win our eighth game somehow and then go ahead and go from there.

"For us, what happens this week and the week after that and the week after that and the week after that, the next five games are going to tell where we end up."

The Sun Devils, who have played five of their first seven games at home, have not yet faced a ranked opponent and the combined conference record of the four Pac-10 opponents they've played is just 4-13.

Now the competition becomes a lot stiffer.

After hosting Cal, Arizona State visits No. 5 Oregon and Pac-10 co-leader UCLA, which is just outside the Top 25. It then returns home to host No. 9 USC and concludes the regular season against archrival Arizona.

"I've never been around a stretch like that, but I knew that going into the season," Erickson said. "You look at where you're at going in to start out with, and you look at the last five games on the schedule, we knew what we were getting into and we knew how the schedule was. That's not going to change. That won't change at all."

The Bears (5-2, 2-2), who were ranked 12th in the AP preseason poll, appeared to be a more menacing foe two weeks ago when they were the nation's second-ranked team, but back-to-back losses have resulted in a free-fall down the rankings.

After suffering its first loss to Oregon State on Oct. 13, Cal fell 30-21 to UCLA last Saturday, likely costing the Bears any shot at repeating as conference champs.

"We have stumbled two weeks in a row now," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "We just have to regroup. We are not going to just pack it in. There is so much parity in this conference."

Although the Bears have been sliding, the Sun Devils have had no success against them lately, dropping four straight meetings - none have been decided by fewer than 17 points - since a 30-10 home win on Oct. 7, 2000.

In Arizona State's 49-21 loss to Cal last Sept. 23, Sun Devils quarterback Rudy Carpenter had one of the worst games of his career, completing 16 of 36 passes for 177 yards and a career-high four interceptions.

This season, Carpenter has been leading a high-powered Arizona State unit that is second in the Pac-10 in scoring (37.7 points per game) and offense (437.3 yards per game).

Carpenter went 20-of-31 for 227 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the Sun Devils' 44-20 victory over Washington in their last game on Oct. 13. He has thrown for 1,064 yards, nine TDs and five picks in Pac-10 play.

Arizona State amassed season highs of 523 total yards and 296 rushing yards against the Huskies, as Keegan Herring ran 10 times for 119 yards, including a career-long 76-yard touchdown run, and Dimitri Nance had 92 rushing yards and a TD on 13 attempts.

Herring and Nance will handle the bulk of the carries for Arizona State with leading rusher Ryan Torain having suffered a season-ending toe injury in the first quarter of the win over Washington.

Cal has been susceptible to the run lately, allowing an average of 175.7 rushing yards in its last three games.

Offensively, the Bears were held to season lows of 299 total yards and 67 rushing yards in their loss to the Bruins. Cal averaged 196.2 rushing yards in its first six games.

Justin Forsett is second in the Pac-10 in rushing with 811 yards and leads the conference with 10 rushing touchdowns, but was held to 76 yards on 25 carries last Saturday, his first game of the season without a TD.

Cal had Nate Longshore back at quarterback against UCLA after his missed the loss to the Beavers with a sprained ankle, but he threw three interceptions. With the Bears down by two points late in the fourth quarter, his second interception was returned 76 yards for the final score with 1:33 remaining.

Longshore had one of his best career games against the Sun Devils last season as he threw for 270 yards, four TDs and one interception.

The Bears have not lost three straight games since losing the first 10 games of their 1-10 season in 2001.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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