SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – With the college football season quickly approaching, 71 days and counting to be precise, SportsWatch has decided to examine the beauty of the Pac-12′s football rivalries. With the launch of MySportswatch, this six-article series is a great way to prime yourself for fall while also pulling a Tim Duncan and beating the heat. Hopefully, these memorable games will spur on great debates between fans of opposing teams, encouraging them to revel in the greatness that is their Pac-12 football rivalry instead of the hatred they feel for each other’s programs; hopefully turning rivals into friends.
Speaking of heat, let’s start our journey through the Pac-12 football rivalries in a place where high temperatures are born: the desert. Arizona vs. Arizona State is one of my favorite rivalries to watch because fans of both teams are so passionate and the hatred is very real. In a rivalry that predates the birth of the state of Arizona itself, the great divide between Tucson and Tempe goes back to the very year both schools were founded in 1885. The University of Arizona was the state’s first university, while ASU was originally founded as The Tempe Normal School – a small teacher’s college – before becoming a university in 1958.
The football rivalry between the two schools dates back more than 100 years and the winner of the game receives the coveted Territorial Cup, which the NCAA has certified as the oldest rivalry trophy in college football. The cup’s name refers to the fact that Arizona was a U.S. Territory at the time before it became a state in 1912. Arizona leads the all-time series against ASU in football, 47-37-1. Arizona State holds the most recent bragging rights however, with wins in 2012 and 2013, begging the question: Bear Down for What?
Let’s focus on memorable games and players from the BCS era, shall we? While fans of both teams are sure to remember the “Ultimatum Bowl,” delving deep into the Territorial Cup’s past can be tedious and unnecessary thanks to sports fan’s relatively short memory. So let’s keep it to the last, say, 10 years.
Memorable Game for ASU: It’s hard not to think about the double-overtime victory over the Wildcats in 2010. The 30-29 win is extra special for the Sun Devils as it took place in Arizona’s own house. This seems to be a recent trend: 36 out of the 87 Territorial Cups played have been won by the road team; four of the last five outcomes have been wins on the road. But in 2010, two blocked extra points by Arizona State defensive end James Brooks made the difference in the thrilling rivalry game. ASU kicker Thomas Weber made all five field goals he attempted and nailed the PAT that clinched the victory. Whether Arizona kicker Alex Zendajas just didn’t aim high enough, or his line didn’t hold, or the snap wasn’t right, it’s all up for debate – but the Territorial Cup went to Tempe that year.
Memorable Game for Arizona: For Arizona it was the next year when the Wildcats traveled to Sun Devil Stadium with a less-than-savory record of 2-8 overall and 1-7 in Pac-12 play. Arizona defeated Arizona State 31-27 in the waning minutes of the game when back up quarterback Bryson Beirne threw what would be the game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass to star wide receiver Juron Criner with 5:18 left to play. It was Beirne’s only pass of the game, but as it turned out, it was the only one the Wildcats needed from him. After an emotional, roller-coaster season that saw eight-year head coach Mike Stoops fired in October due in part to a 1-5 start to the season, winning the Territorial Cup regained some of the Bear Down spirit that had been lost, demonstrating the players’ and program’s toughness and resilience.
Standout performance for ASU: Goes to head coach Todd Graham. Graham is heading into his third year as leader of the Sun Devil program and he holds a 2-0 record in the Territorial Cup. Graham and fellow third year Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez both were tasked to rebuild programs in a competitive conference and both have been working hard on the field and on the recruiting trail to do just that. Graham has a slight edge with last year’s 10-4 season and Pac-12 championship game appearance. That, and the 58-21 routing of the Wildcats in last year’s Territorial Cup game. Up until the most recent contest, the last nine (2004-2012) games have averaged a seven-point margin of victory. Graham and Co. blew that stat wide open with last year’s 37-point win, as the 58 points were the second most points scored in Territorial Cup history.
Standout Performance for Arizona: This one is slightly harder to define. One could argue it should be Ka’Deem Carey with his monstrous yardage and insane amount of carries despite only winning one Territorial Cup in his time at Arizona. Others might say it’s Nick Foles, who won three Territorial Cups in a Wildcat uniform and was instrumental in both the 2009 and 2011 wins. In fact, in 2011, Foles ranked first in the Pac-12 and fifth in the nation with an average of 352.58 yards of total offense per game. He threw for 370 yards and two touchdowns in the 2011 Territorial Cup that year to help lead his team to victory.
Conclusion: Whether you are bearing down or worshipping the Sun Devil, both teams have seen their fair share of glory as well as defeat. The one point of contention from both camps is the lack of national notoriety: the last time both teams had a national ranking entering the game was in 1986. To make the rivalry relevant, both schools believe the game needs to mean something; they need to play for something beyond bragging rights. Like a Pac-12 championship berth perhaps?
This year’s Territorial Cup should be very exciting given the offensive prowess of both teams. Lots of points will be scored and the margin of victory is expected to be very slim. ASU has the slight edge with more experience on offense, but they will have to make some strides defensively, especially after losing All-American defensive lineman Will Sutton, in addition to eight other defensive starters. Could redshirt freshman safety Marcus Ball or freshman linebacker D.J. Calhoun make a difference next year? As for Arizona, this is RichRod’s year to solidify his culture change. We already know Arizona has a stellar receiving corps, but how will the running game fare without Carey?