From the national perspective, Arizona State captured its most significant win by defeating UCLA at the Rose Bowl. From the local perspective, it's all about the Arizona State game against the University of Arizona for the Territorial Cup.
Clinching the Pac-12 South and earning a conference championship spot should be enough to satisfy Sun Devil Nation. But it won't be enough.
The celebration jumps for joy and prideful chants roaring down Mill Avenue were on display last Saturday. The celebration jumps for joy and pride chants roaring down Mill Avenue may sound significantly louder this Saturday.
The stakes are high on both sides. Arizona State would host Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, assuming it beats the Wildcats. Arizona State would travel to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game if it loses. And the Wildcats are attempting to spoil the Sun Devils' season and get invited to a better bowl game.
The hatred from each respective side is never questioned. Yet the rivalry itself isn't too well known beyond Arizona. The duel in the desert rarely showcases two good football teams at the same time, diminishing the value of the contest. In 2013, two good football teams are on display, and Arizona State possesses legitimate hopes of being great.
Now it's time to make the famous Haber's Hunches. I went 2-1 last week and was 10 more UCLA penalty yards away from completing the trifecta. I head into the final regular season game at 19-13 overall.
First hunch: University of Arizona scores 24 points or less
The production from All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey never wavered. The Wildcats' offense finally progressed, as BJ Denker grew more comfortable at quarterback. I still don't buy into Denker as a passer. His running ability shouldn't be questioned, as he's gained 811 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In the passing game, Denker appears to be just another game manager. 1,559 passing yards in 10 games equates to about 155.9 per game. Those numbers aren't going to cut it, especially for Rich Rodriguez's high-flying attacks.
The offenses that expose Arizona State are balanced, and University of Arizona is not. Carey's 206 yards on the ground against Oregon were deceiving because he got his number called an outrageous 48 times. I assume Carey won't be as fresh come kickoff on Saturday.
The Sun Devils are taking things to the next level on defense and it propelled them to 12th in the BCS rankings. Todd Graham and Paul Randolph are going to dare Denker to beat them by stacking the box routinely against Carey. In the opening games, the Arizona State run defense was its Achilles' heel. At this juncture, the Arizona State run defense hasn't surrendered a 100-yard rusher since week four against USC.
Don't get me wrong, Carey will still pass the 100-yard plateau and be around 4.0 yards per carry. The Sun Devils are going to limit his success more than most teams; filling the gaps and fundamental tackling will be the keys. Once Will Sutton, Carl Bradford, Chris Young and more slow Carey down, the Wildcats' offense is going to be stagnant, totaling 24 points at best.
Second hunch: D.J. Foster accumulates 150-plus total yards
The probable loss of Marion Grice is going to hurt. But thanks to D.J. Foster, the loss won't hurt too bad.
On Thanksgiving night, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell had plenty of thanks to go around. Foster as an alternative running back option is among the things Norvell should note. The versatility Grice offers doesn't come around often. Foster showcases many interchangeable traits.
As I watch Foster run routes at wide receiver in the slot, I sometimes forget that isn't his primary position. Coming out of Saguaro high school, Foster received scholarship offers from Notre Dame, USC and many other powerhouses. Since arriving to Arizona State, he has lived up to the hype.
Foster isn't posting the same statistics as his freshman season, but that's solely because of decreased opportunities. With Grice on the sideline, Foster will be featured and the results are going to look eerily similar.
Final hunch: The trend of close games comes to an end (ASU wins by 10-plus)
How would you define the University of Arizona football team? The Wildcats were great against Oregon and pathetic against Washington State. And then there's the gray area of mediocrity in between.
I know how to define the Arizona State football team, especially at home. It only requires one word: dominant. The Sun Devils' margin of victory within the Echo of the Buttes sits at 26.8 points per game.
No matter the records, the spreads, the talent differential, Arizona State against Arizona somehow always ends up close. The importance of the Territorial Cup brings about such pride, which may be the logical explanation for the stride-for-stride blows. Every streak ends eventually, and the Sun Devils are going to grant themselves breathing room.
Arizona garnered tons of praise for thrashing Oregon and deservedly so, yet I took something different away from the upset. It was more indicative of Oregon checking out on the season prematurely because its national championship aspirations were over.
Let's not forget, the Wildcats lost to an anemic Washington State team two weeks ago and scored a mere 17 points. Right now, the football at Arizona State isn't comparable with the football at the University of Arizona. I refuse to believe the game will be close based on years past. As Todd Graham said, "I don't think what happened last year has anything to do with this year."
Based on personnel and home field advantage, Arizona State should defeat the University of Arizona by around 20 points. After taking the other factors into account, my final hunch is for Arizona State to defeat the University of Arizona by 10-plus points.