ASU Football: The importance of the Territorial Cup

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

Make no mistake, the Sun Devils are preparing for their most important game of the season this Saturday.

Notre Dame in Dallas was a chance to make a national statement, UCLA in Pasadena was a national statement, but for Arizona State, there's one game that trumps everything else.

The most important game for the Sun Devils is, always has been, and always will be the Territorial Cup against the Arizona Wildcats.

Todd Graham considers himself a college football historian, so upon arriving at Arizona State, he said one of his first missions was to understand the tradition of the program.

"When I first came here, one of the things that's important is really researching, knowing the history of the program, knowing the things that are important to the program," Graham said.

It didn't take long for him to find out. When Graham met with former players, fans and students, he said he was almost taken aback by how much emphasis fans put on winning the Territorial Cup game.

"No question about it, the most important thing to our fan base every year is winning this game," Graham said. "You can add things to it, but you need no motivation to get ready for it."

After locking up the Pac-12 South crown and pouring their hearts and souls into the UCLA win, it's fathomable that the Sun Devils would ease up a bit this week. But with so much at stake, Graham says that focus and preparation won't be an issue against the Wildcats.

"Very easy to keep them focused, we're playing Arizona. That takes care of itself. It's a rival game," Graham said. "Our guys know the significance of that. This team is a mature team, they know exactly what they're playing for and they know the significance of this game."

Furthermore, a win this week would allow the Sun Devils to host the Pac-12 Championship game against Stanford. If Arizona State fends off of the Wildcats, they would head into next week's home game with an overall mark of 7-0 at Sun Devil Stadium this season.

Todd Graham has reiterated the importance of cultivating a strong home field advantage in Tempe this season. The Sun Devils have backed up their coach's attitude by putting 50 points on the board in four of their six home outings. Now, the Sun Devils can secure an eighth home game and a better chance at reaching their goals with a win on Saturday.

"We have two steps left to accomplish our goal and our goal is to be Pac-12 Champions," Graham said.

The Sun Devils are well aware that the recent trends in the Territorial Cup series appear to favor the Wildcats. The visiting team has won each of the past four games and the underdog has won the matchup in three consecutive seasons, so the Sun Devils are surely on upset alert.

On Monday, Graham alluded to the fact that rivalry games are unpredictable. He's learned about his fair share of Territorial Cups, and he said that he wouldn't be surprised if this game came down to a final series, or even the final play.

"I think the heritage of this great game is important and I think it's important as coaches that we know the history of this game and that we respect this game tremendously," Graham said. "There is nothing that I like better in college football than rivalry games."

And for Sun Devil fans, there's nothing better than watching their team win the rivalry.

"I don't think I could put a level on just how important this game is to our fans," Graham said. "It's pretty intense."

***

Notes

Sun Devil running back Marion Grice's status is day-to-day and the team hopes to have him back for this weekend. Grice exited the game late in the fourth quarter on Saturday and it's hard to imagine that an injury that forced him to leave the stadium on crutches would be back in a week.

If the Sun Devils don't have Grice, they'll turn to D.J. Foster and Deantre Lewis to fill the void in the running game against the Wildcats. Arizona State enjoyed great success on the ground last season in Tucson, and if the Sun Devils want to host the Pac-12 Championship game, they'll need another strong rushing effort.

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