ASU vs. Arizona: The matchup of the week

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Which team will have enough stamina left after season-defining victories last week?

Has it finally sunk in yet? The Arizona State Sun Devils are the Pac-12 South champions, and with a win on Saturday, will host the Pac-12 Championship game.

Arizona State jumped out to a huge halftime lead before holding off UCLA's furious second half comeback in the biggest win of Todd Graham's tenure.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Wildcats feel like they just won the Super Bowl. The 42-16 dismantling of Oregon in Tucson last week was the shocker of the year in college football.

The funny thing is, it almost doesn't feel like Territorial Cup week, for either team. Arizona painted ‘A' Mountain a week early. Both teams had their biggest wins of the season last week. And honestly, both programs were, prior to last weekend, going in very different directions.

But don't let the sudden lack of hype fool you; this game is just as important to both programs as any they've played this season. The question is, will both teams show up?

Matchup of the Week: Big Winners vs. The Letdown

The most important matchup this week doesn't actually involve schemes or mismatches. Instead, this game will probably be decided before Saturday even rolls around.

For Arizona State, the question is simply how will they respond to finally winning ‘that game'? You know, the game the Sun Devils have lost for years?

ASU never wins big games. They really never win big road games. And they certainly don't win games with championship aspirations attached to them.

So far, they're 0-for-2 in letdown games. After dispelling the ‘never win big games' theory by beating Wisconsin, the Sun Devils came out flat against Stanford and never really recovered. When ASU destroyed USC, they fell apart the next week in the big road game against Notre Dame in Dallas.

Now, they've won ‘that big road game' and ‘that game with championship aspirations' at the same time. Does it change anything with Arizona coming to Sun Devil Stadium? Probably, but the Territorial Cup is one game where home field advantage truly doesn't matter.

It's imperative that the Sun Devils come out and execute on offense. Arizona handled a disinterested Oregon team last week. The Ducks had basically admitted, all week, that they didn't really want to play in the Rose Bowl again. Now, they get to go to San Antonio to play in the Alamo Bowl. Problem solved.

The Wildcats pounced and moved the ball at will, and more impressively shut down Oregon's vaunted offense. Arizona flew to the ball all night and just looked faster than Oregon, even though we know it to be fact that the Wildcats are not anywhere near as fast as the Ducks.

A strong opening drive would go a long way toward proving that at least the offense isn't letting up, and if the offense is clicking, the Sun Devils should be able to beat Arizona.

But Arizona State isn't the only team with something left to prove. The Wildcats are just as susceptible to a big letdown as the Sun Devils are.

First, Arizona has to come to Tempe, and for the first time since Pat Tillman was wearing No. 42 for the Maroon and Gold, there seems to be a legitimate belief that this Sun Devil team can be special. Sun Devil Stadium is going to be packed, and it's not all Wildcat fans. Reports surfaced on Monday suggesting that the Wildcats returned more tickets to ASU than all but one team so far. I'm sure that wouldn't be the same story had the Oregon win come a week earlier, but it didn't.

Arizona also has to be drained. The Wildcats just played nearly perfect football against a team that is BCS tested. They had to play at an unbelievable pace, and they'll be asked to do that again this week. Arizona isn't exactly a deep, talented team, so asking for its players to play two huge, emotional games in back-to-back weeks is asking a lot.

Arizona State also has more than just pride to play for. With the Sun Devils needing a win to secure home field advantage in the Pac-12 Championship game, you can expect the team to have some fire. Can Arizona match that intensity early? If not, the letdown is coming.

Finally, and perhaps the most important part for Arizona fans to remember, is that the Wildcats just aren't as good as the Sun Devils. Arizona fans' expectations skyrocketed after the Oregon game. But realists realize that the Oregon game was an out-of-body experience.

Arizona State, meanwhile, has been working toward that UCLA result all year. The Sun Devils are a Rick Smith fumble away from being 10-1 and firmly in the BCS at-large conversation, regardless of the championship outcome. There is NFL talent all over both sides of the ball, starting with Jaelen Strong and Marion Grice on offense and Will Sutton and Carl Bradford on defense. The Wildcats, meanwhile, have a far inferior quarterback coming off an all-time day, but also rely on Ka'Deem Carey far too much.

Carey is a monster; a complete back that will play a long time in the NFL. But Arizona State has been surprisingly good against super-talented runners of late. And Carey is all the Wildcats usually have going for themselves.

It begs the question: would it really be a let down if Arizona lost by 14? In many Wildcats fans eyes, yes. But the reality is, that might be as good as Arizona really is.

Still, it will be interesting to watch and see which team, if either, struggles to cope with increased expectations and the lingering effects of such an emotional win.

That and the leftover tryptophan from Thanksgiving dinner.

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