For a few brief moments, it looked like Arizona State was going to have the battle it wanted.
But then the big brother stepped in. And that's why Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl again.
That's the way most fights between brothers go. The younger brother's energy and aggression helps him to land a few blows early on, but eventually, inevitably, the big brother's been in these fights too many times -- and he knows how to win them.
Sometimes you have to cheat, but most of the time you just count on your experience and strength and your younger brother wearing himself out. And there's no question who's the big brother of the Pac-12.
Overall, this Pac-12 title game took a complexion a lot like the 2011 Orange Bowl. Both Virginia Tech and Arizona State got a few shots in early, but Stanford's superb quarterback play and dominant running game ultimately carried the day. Both games even featured 96-plus yard touchdown drives. The only difference is that there was no play where the Stanford offense motioned four times before running the ball.
Perhaps the greatest and most enjoyable surprise of the day was the play of Kevin Hogan, who turned in perhaps the best game of his still-young career. Hogan's struggles on the road - particularly against USC - were a primary factor in the Cardinal's two losses this year, but he was dominant against the Sun Devils. On the other side of the ball, Shayne Skov's leap over the Arizona State o-line to sack Taylor Kelly was reminiscent of Junior Seau in his days as a Charger, and his play was evocative of a defense that shut out the Devils (who averaged 44 points a game at home) in the second half.
And yes, jumping on the back of your younger brother is a very effective strategy when you're in a fight.
The Cardinal now goes on to face Michigan State in the Spartans' first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988. The Spartans notched one of the more impressive wins of the season on Saturday by handing Ohio State its first loss in two years, with the Spartan D rising in the 4th quarter to stem the tide right when Braxton Miller and company looked like they were about to take over.
A month in advance, it already looks like 2014's Rose Bowl will be very similar to 2013's Rose Bowl - two stout defenses squaring off against two powerful running games. Time will tell if David Shaw tries to mix things up with two early trick plays.
If "Big Brother of the Pac-12" isn't a good enough title for Stanford to hold, the Cardinal did earn something much more tangible: Stanford became the fifth team in the BCS era to make four straight BCS bowls, joining several of the best teams in the history of the sport.
However, the Cardinal became an outlier among those five teams as well. The Cardinal is the first one of those five schools to make four straight BCS bowls without making a title game, but the first school to do it while changing coaches and losing a number one overall pick midway through that run. And now David Shaw has more BCS bowl appearances than Jim Harbaugh and Kevin Hogan has just as many as Andrew Luck.
In some ways, this season was the most remarkable of any of these last four seasons. The Cardinal's best player on offense was in the stands for the last Rose Bowl. The loss to Utah was Stanford's worst loss in years. The Cardinal didn't just beat Oregon - it abused them. USC rushed their own field after beating Stanford.
Even as up and down as it was - as infuriating and enjoyable as it could be at times - it's hard to know exactly what this season will be remembered for just yet. Perhaps that's the part yet to be written. The Cardinal was expected to be BCS contenders all year, and it reached that expectation. There was no Heisman contender and no midseason quarterback change. It was just Stanford football being Stanford football, doing what it needed to do every week. Brutal defense and a mean run game was what took Stanford to the top of the Pac-12 a year ago - what established it as the conference's big brother. That's who the Cardinal were again this year.
And in the end, the big brother always wins.