Graham confident as ASU football holds last Pac-12 Championship practice

With the Pac-12 finishing decorations around campus Thursday morning in spirit of Saturday’s Pac-12 Football Championship Game, ASU held its final practice of the week at Sun Devil Stadium.

The stadium operations crew re-painted the field and hung championship banners around the surrounding fences the day before. The setup impressed coach Todd Graham, who told his players in a team meeting back in August to close their eyes and visualize hosting the Pac-12 Championship Game in Tempe.

“I like the fact it says ‘Pac-12 Championship Game’ and we’re playing in it,” Graham said. “It’s neat.”

Still, he’s wary the glitz and glamour added to the team’s extra home game will bring a lot of emotion, which can get the best of players if they’re not careful.

“I guarantee you that our guys are going to be fired up, but you have to play smart,” he said. “You have to play with character. We can’t beat ourselves. I can guarantee you the team we’re playing is well coached. They’re not going to beat themselves. We got to make sure that we play smart.”

Despite Graham’s warning, he’s been impressed with how his team has been preparing all week and said it had the best Tuesday and Wednesday practices of the season.

Graham wishes he had more time to prepare, but he said the players understand how big of a challenge Stanford poses as the defending conference champion.

“The main thing is you have to be focused on being smart and doing what you’re coached to do,” Graham said. “If we play as a unit, no one operates outside that unit, and if we play smart, I like our chances.”

Preparation should be even more critical this time around. When ASU first lost to Stanford on Sept. 21, Graham admitted the team didn’t plan as well they should’ve and said he apologized to his players for not getting them ready.

“I thought we were very, very wellprepared, and we weren’t,” Graham said that night following the 42-28 loss. “We came out very, very flat.”

Now, there’s no turning back as the Sun Devils get ready for their rematch against the Cardinal. This time, Graham trusts that his team will be readier this time around, as critical games like the Nov. 23 win at UCLA shaped the Sun Devils to be where they are today.

“I believe in our team,” Graham said. “I know our team will give everything they got, and I believe in them. We got great confidence in how they’ve played and how they’re playing to this point, but we know we’re playing the best team in the league.”

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion