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ASU Football: Sun Devils talk about keeping the Territorial Cup where it belongs

House of Sparky spoke with four seniors and redshirt junior Taylor Kelly about the significance of keeping the Territorial Cup in Tempe.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

While there will be many different story lines for Saturday's Territorial Cup game, there is one constant theme that each of the Arizona State football players are focusing on this week.

Every Sun Devil player has talked about how the Arizona game is the most important game on the schedule for the program, and senior tight end Chris Coyle echoed those sentiments after practice on Wednesday.

"This game is the absolute most important game of our season," Coyle said. "It doesn't matter what the record is of each team when we come into this game."

Speaking of records, the Sun Devils come into the game at 9-2 while the Wildcats sport a 7-4 mark on the season. In the past four Territorial Cup games, the away team has won while the underdog has taken home the cup in each of the last three years. Like every great rivalry game, the outcome is always unpredictable, which is part of what makes this series so special.

For defensive tackle Will Sutton, his decision to come back to Arizona State after passing up a chance to turn pro last year was based on his goal of winning the Pac-12 Championship. But Sutton also puts great emphasis on beating the Wildcats, and he's relishing the opportunity to get another crack at Arizona in his fifth season in Tempe.

"Once you get here, you become apart of it," Sutton said of the rivarly. "It's just tradition and you know you have to play with that passion, you have to bring something different when you play U of A."

The Sun Devils and Wildcats first began playing each other in 1899, back when Arizona State was known as the Tempe Normal School. The rivalry between the two schools has been cultivated for the past 114 years, and Chris Coyle knows the tradition and intensity are unmatched.

"With the rivalry, there's been a little bit of bitterness between the teams in the past whether it's jumping on each other's logos, things like that," Coyle said. "Painting the ‘A' on our mountain or painting whatever they have down there."

This year's game is about more than just bragging rights. The Sun Devils have the chance to lock up home field advantage for the Pac-12 Championship game; a proposition they aren't taking lightly.

Arizona State is 6-0 on the season at home, and the Sun Devils haven't been defeated in Tempe in more than a calendar year. Quarterback Taylor Kelly says the magnitude of this year's game is exciting, and he's able to sense the energy his teammates have this week in practice.

"To play Arizona at home, in front of our home crowd, get that opportunity to play against those guys here," Kelly said. "Guys are ready. It's rivalry week. Guys are all fired up."

Coyle said the chance to host Stanford the following week is a goal the Sun Devils are working toward, and he says there's extra motivation in knowing the Sun Devils can secure an extra home game.

"Having the Pac-12 championship at home, that would sort of be like having the cherry on top," Coyle said.

Saturday's game won't only be an opportunity for the Sun Devils to look ahead, it will also be a chance for many Arizona State players to reflect back. The Territorial Cup game coincides with senior night in Tempe as the Sun Devils will honor their graduating seniors on the field before the game.

Many Sun Devils have endured long journeys through the program, but some of the most interesting stories belong to Grandville Taylor and Kevin Ozier. Taylor and Ozier both came to Arizona State as walk-ons during the Dennis Erickson era and under Todd Graham, both have been rewarded with scholarships.

When Taylor and Ozier walk onto the field at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday night, they will be as determined as any Sun Devils to conclude their regular season careers with a win.

"It's going to be great, it's senior night so we want to go out with a bang, we want to go out beating the Wildcats," Ozier said.

Taylor shared Ozier's feelings.

"It's going to be a special day for me and everybody else that's a senior here," Taylor said. "I've been here for five years now, it's just a good feeling to be out there with the rest of my teammates."

Ultimately, the Sun Devils want to extend the careers of seniors like Taylor and Ozier by an extra month. Arizona State controls its own destiny and can make the program's first Rose Bowl appearance since 1997. With a win on Saturday, Taylor and the Sun Devils will inch ever closer to a date with destiny on New Year's Day.

"We want to leave our legacy here and be another team that goes to the Rose Bowl here. But not just go to the Rose Bowl, to win it," Taylor said.

But before the Sun Devils get ahead of themselves too much, they have to take care of business against an upset-minded Wildcats squad. Arizona pulled off a stunning victory over Oregon last Saturday, and Ozier says the Sun Devils will need to remain focused if they want to avoid a similar fate.

"They're our rivals and of course we want to look forward to the Pac-12 Championship, but we can't look past U of A because they're a good team," Ozier said. "They have beat us at home, we beat them at home, and we want to beat them especially for all of the seniors and we'll get home field advantage in the Pac-12 Championship."

With seniors to honor, a rival to defeat, and a conference championship game to play in on the horizon, there's certainly no shortage of motivation for Arizona State. The Sun Devils have business to take care of, and if all goes well, they'll be right back in action for an encore performance the following week.

"Senior day is always a big one, but we're going to have one more at home," Will Sutton said. "No matter what, rivalry game, you know the passion, we should beat U of A. We beat them, we have another home game, so we'll have two senior nights."