TEMPE – The 92nd meeting between Arizona and Arizona State heads for the gridiron this Saturday and supporters of both schools couldn’t be more pleased.
In a year when both schools were predicted to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 South Division, they are now playing for a second place finish behind the University of Southern California. Depending on what part of the state you were in, the opinions varied on who would claim the cellar, yet neither fan base had much hope for even becoming bowl eligible this season.
The Wildcats started the season with Brandon Dawkins under center. Dawkins struggled in the opener against in-state FCS opponent Northern Arizona University, putting up a paltry 7-of-13 for 89 yards and one touchdown pass.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez’s squad would go on to lose two of the next three at home to Houston and Utah before opting to shake things up at the quarterback position. Enter sophomore Khalil Tate, and the rest they say, is history.
Tate rushed for 327 yards and four touchdowns while throwing for another 142 yards and a touchdown against Colorado sparking a huge four-game win streak with Tate ripping off big runs and scoring almost at will. During the stretch, Tate piled up all the accolades thanks to his five passing and four rushing touchdowns.
Over the past three weeks, the ‘Cats and Tate hit a roadblock losing two of three with their only victory being over a one-win Oregon State team.
The scene in Tempe was much more bleak at the start of the 2017 season. The Sun Devils were coming off their worst season of the Pac-12 era where they literally gave up in the final game of the 2016 season surrendering 56 points in Tucson.
The writing was on the wall for the Sun Devils and head coach Todd Graham – this was unacceptable.
Armed with a healthy quarterback in Manny Wilkins, a five-star backup quarterback who started for Alabama last year and a new coordinator on each side of the ball, the Sun Devils looked ready to compete.
Until the season started.
The Sun Devils were embarrassed in their home opener by nearly losing to New Mexico State and going on to lose the next two non-conference games to San Diego State and Texas Tech.
All was not well in Tempe and losses in what was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule looked to be a harbinger of things to come with conference play looming large.
Conference play for the Sun Devils was a gauntlet facing three ranked teams at home including Oregon, Washington and USC along with two tough road games at always-tough Stanford and Utah.
Nobody in their right mind could have predicted that the Devils would go on to beat then-No. 24 Oregon or then-No. 5 Washington, but the defense stepped up big…I mean huge. They were close wins, but they were wins—against ranked teams and the Sun Devil faithful believed once again.
The road games against Stanford, Utah, UCLA and Oregon St. were a literal “Tale of Two Devil Teams.”
After beating Oregon at home, Graham took his team on the road to face Heisman Trophy finalist running back Bryce Love and the Stanford Cardinal. Love, the former track and field speedster proved why he was a front-runner shredding the Sun Devil defense for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
Following the Washington win, the Devils put on a defensive clinic at Rice-Eccles Stadium holding the Utah Utes to three points for the first 57 minutes of the game. The road woes came back to haunt the Devils losing in embarrassing fashion to a hapless UCLA team. True to form, the following road game showed the offensive firepower of Manny Wilkins by scoring the first 30 points against Oregon State.
The momentum coming into the game is definitely on the side of the Sun Devils who have won two of their last three with the Wildcats losing two of three. All bets are off, however, when it comes to a rivalry game.
Most odds-makers have this game as a ‘pick-em’ meaning there is no clear favorite so bet accordingly. Here are a couple nuggets that will make this game all the more exciting.
- The team with the worse record has won 13 times since 1979, ASU was nationally ranked four times during that span and lost to Arizona. Arizona was nationally ranked once and lost to ASU 7-6 in 1992.
- The team with the worse record has won five of the last seven years.
- The home team has won the past four years and 11 of the past 20 years.
- Arizona State (Normal School) won the first ever meeting in 1899.
- Arizona leads the all-time series 49-40-1.
- Since Arizona State became a university in 1958, the Sun Devils lead the series 31-26-1.
- Since both teams moved to the Pac-10 from the WAC in 1978, Arizona leads 21-17-1 including a streak of 9-0-1.
- This century, ASU leads 10-7 and has won three of the past five years.
Regardless of what you think will happen, the opposite will usually occur. This game has seen it all from Arizona students burning the brand new field at Sun Devil Stadium in 1958 to two blocked PAT’s on a cold December night in 2010.
While that stung for Arizona, they will always have their big moment. In 1986, both teams came in to the game nationally ranked; the ‘Cats were 7-2 and ranked No. 14 and hosted the No. 4 Sun Devils who came to Tucson sporting a 9-0-1 record. Of course, Arizona went on to win that game being the only blemish on the Pac-10 and Rose Bowl champion’s resume.
This year’s game in Tempe has big bowl implications when we thought for sure the only thing they would be fighting for was saving their head coach from the unemployment line.