PHOENIX - When Arizona Cardinals' rookie running back Stepfan Taylor was a senior at Stanford last season, his team had the benefit of playing UCLA at home with a spot in the Rose Bowl on the line.
In order to return to the Rose Bowl this season, Stanford must defeat No. 11 ASU on the road in Saturday's Pac-12 Championship game – but Taylor doesn't think his team will be fazed by the raucous Sun Devil Stadium crowd.
"I'm pretty sure (Stanford head coach David Shaw) is preparing players to limit those excuses, home or away," said Taylor, who left Stanford as the school's all-time leader in rushing yards with exactly 4,300 in four seasons. "There's one chance here to go to the Rose Bowl, so I'm pretty sure the players have done a great job of eliminating distractions and focusing on the things to do.
In fact, in order to prepare for the crowd noise in Tempe, Shaw has blared music over the stereo system during this week's practices – a tactic that Taylor said Shaw used more than once last season, including before Stanford's matchup at No. 2 Oregon.
"I remember before Shaw was head coach (before 2011), we didn't have music," he said, "so once we got music, we started playing with (simulated) game noise, and that helped out a lot."
ASU won its first-ever Pac-12 South championship this season, as well as the right to host the conference championship game, after going 8-1 in conference play, including a 58-21 blowout win over rival Arizona in Tempe last weekend.
ASU's only Pac-12 loss? A 42-28 defeat on Sept. 21 at Stanford – the only team left standing in the way of the Sun Devils' first Rose Bowl appearance since 1997.
Taylor was replaced in the Stanford backfield this season by senior Tyler Gaffney, who scored two touchdowns against ASU in their September meeting that Taylor enjoyed watching on TV.
Gaffney's 1,485 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns this season – numbers that are similar to those that Taylor earned in his senior year at Stanford – are both good for third-best in the Pac-12.
"He's a little taller than me, has a big body, and has great hands, as well," said Taylor of Gaffney. "He's a good back with good vision and good leg drive. That's why you always see him powering forward.
"And the offensive linemen we have out there are phenomenal. They're big players – especially (senior guard) Dave Yankey – and the young guys are stepping up. It's a good one-two punch back there."
Taylor said there's no big secret to beating Stanford, which likes to run the ball up the middle behind its imposing offensive line. "I'm pretty sure (the Sun Devils) know exactly what's going to happen," he said. "It's a pretty simple game plan that we had when I was at Stanford. You've just got to go out there and stop it.
"It's going to be a physical game, and whoever can be the most physical team (will win)."
In a game that features perhaps the two hardest-hitting teams in the Pac-12, Taylor said this year's conference championship game will be decided by the team that makes the fewest errors and is able to impose its will on its opponent – and he's confident that, when Saturday night's game is over, it will be his alma mater that will be left standing.
"Most of it's going to be who can make plays downfield and who can make the least amount of mistakes," he said. "They're both physical teams, so I think this game is going to come down to whoever's going to be the most physical and can move their men from A to B with their will. But I'm always going for Stanford."