It's the biggest game of the year, every year. If you're ASU's head coach, you have to beat Arizona. That was made clear to Todd Graham when he accepted the Sun Devils' coaching position, and in his first two meetings with the team from down under, he has emerged victorious. ASU's success against the Wildcats in the past couple of years has been synonymous with the ascension of the Sun Devils' program, while Arizona has been stuck in mediocrity. Well, at least they were until this year.
Yes, somehow the Wildcats have managed to put together a 9-2 record, and have an outside shot at winning the Pac-12 South. Which makes this Friday's game in Tucson so much more exciting. Regardless of the result from the UCLA-Stanford game, the winner of the Territorial Cup this year will almost assuredly guarantee themselves a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. Having a local team in the Glendale-located Fiesta Bowl would be a huge boost to either program, and it would be the biggest bowl that either team has been to since the Sun Devils made the Rose Bowl in 1997. Arizona is currently the only team from the original Pac-10 to have never reached the Rose Bowl, and Sun Devil fans sure won't let them forget about it until they do.
The great thing about this rivalry is that its relevance extends to how you're raised. Those born in Arizona are either given sweet Sparky action figures or much-less-sweet Wilbur teddy bears. But it's impossible to grow up in Arizona and not have some sort of inclination toward the rivalry. In fact, the rivalry runs so deep in family origins that an acquaintance of mine who is a Tucson native (I'll leave his name out of this so as to protect him from angry ASU fans), is an ASU student and actively roots against ASU when it is playing Arizona. Really. The rivalry runs so deep in family roots that someone who will one day call themselves an ASU graduate actively roots for his school's rival.
I didn't grow up in the rivalry, I actually grew up a USC fan. But that's okay because when Jaelen Strong caught the Hail Mary to beat the Trojans earlier this season, I jumped and screamed like a little girl. Still, I never really cared about the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry, and didn't get all that into it even when I became a Sun Devil student. Last year, I flew home to California to spend Thanksgiving with my family instead of staying in Tempe for the Arizona game. I was a 18-year-old freshman and I valued seeing my family over watching the game.
But little did I know that the rivalry can impact even those who have never been directly involved in it. This year, as a member of the House of Sparky team, I was given the opportunity to make the trek down to Tucson for this year's Territorial Cup. I was hesitant because I haven't been home all semester, so I called my mom and asked what she thought about it. Here's what my mother, a University of Kansas graduate, told me:
"It's the Territorial Cup Shane, come on! Are you even a Sun Devil? You better go to that game or I'm making you wait half an hour after everyone else eats Thanksgiving dinner to eat yours."
I'll be in Tucson on Friday.
The Cynical Sun Devil's Worst Case Scenario
Vegas knows all, right? Well, as of Wednesday, the domineers in the Sin City have yet to release a line for this Friday's game between the Sun Devils and Wildcats. While Arizona was initially giving 4 1/2 points to the Sun Devils, but the uncertainty of Wildcat quarterback Anu Solomon's health has kept the game off the books for now. Seeing this, notable gambler and possibly the greatest pound-for-pound Floyd Mayweather takes notice. Money Mayweather is famous for his lavish bets, with many of them paying off. Mayweather has always had a penchant for underdogs, even though he's never been one, and thus decides to put down $100 thousand on ASU. Fresh off a recent title defense, Manny Pacquiao is tired of Mayweather avoiding his challenge to fight, and gives Money an ultimatum. If ASU wins, Pacquiao leaves Mayweather alone. If Arizona wins, Money has to finally get in the ring with Manny. Crossing his fingers, Mayweather agrees to the deal.
Come game day, Money Mayweather decides to make the trip down south to Tucson for the game. What he sees pleases him. ASU scores three early touchdowns and takes a commanding 35-7 lead at halftime, while Solomon is clearly still hampered. Mayweather leaves the game at halftime in his private jet, figuring that the Sun Devils have the game in hand. What he doesn't see is Pacquiao taking the place of Solomon for the second half. Dubbed "Anu Hope," Pacquiao plays the second half at quarterback, and leads a passionate Wildcat rally that results in a 41-38 win for Arizona. Pacquiao emerges victorious and is almost too happy to realize Mayweather is halfway to the Bahamas, never to fight again.