Can you feel the hate throughout the state? For ASU and Arizona fans, it's the biggest game of the year, and it's finally here. Ignoring the accidental rhymes for which I will not apologize (OK, I'm done now) Shane Dale was nice enough to join us and give his take on the game. For those that haven't read it yet, Dale authored "Territorial: The History of the Duel in the Desert," which is a phenomenal read and available on Amazon.
House of Sparky: In context of the entire history of the rivalry, how big is Friday's game?
Shane Dale: It's the most meaningful game for both teams since 1975. Going into the '75 game, ASU was 10-0 and UA was 9-1, and a Fiesta Bowl bid was on the line for the winner. This year, it's very possible we're looking at a similar situation; the winner may very well go to the Fiesta Bowl. There have been many instances in which there was a lot on the line for ASU, with UA having the chance to play spoiler, but there have been very few games in which there was this much on the line for both teams.
HOS: A lot of rivalries are in good fun or just don't like each other, but there is a lot of actual deep-rooted hatred between ASU and Arizona. What do you believe is the primary source of the hate?
SD: Honestly, I think most fans in their 20s and 30s, and maybe even older than that, probably aren't aware of much of the rivalry's nasty history -- they just know that, if you're an ASU grad, you're supposed to dislike UA, and vice versa. But based on the research I did for the book, it seems like the 1958 "No 200" incident was really the catalyst for a lot of bad blood between the two schools, and it was passed down to subsequent generations. Proposition 200 in 1958 would turn Arizona State College into Arizona State University, but UA was opposed to it, as they wanted to remain the only university in the state. Phoenix and Tempe had already surpassed Tucson in terms of population and job growth, and the university was one of the few remaining advantages Tucson enjoyed until that time.
Some folks presumably from UA broke into Sun Devil Stadium and burned "No 200" into the grass weeks before the vote. Of course, the prop passed -- and later that year, ASU smoked UA 47-0 in Tucson -- but it seems that a great deal of the genuine dislike for each other comes from that period of time in which ASU was catching up to UA in terms of academics.
HOS: Since Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez became the head coaches, how has this rivalry changed with their individual personalities? Is it more or less intense than previous eras?
SD: I don't think much has changed with those guys in charge, other than the fact that both teams seem to be headed for big things, which I'm very happy about. I think the intensity of the rivalry is driven primarily by the fans, and secondarily by the players. At UA, for example, I'm guessing guys like Jared Tevis, who is from Tucson and has never liked ASU, will do more to rally the players before Friday's game than the coaching staff will, and the same likely holds true at ASU. I do know that Todd Graham brings back former players from time to time to talk to the team about what it means to be a Sun Devil, and most of those players mention beating UA as part of that meaning. I think that's a healthy thing to do.
HOS: Back on the gridiron, give us one key to victory for each team.
SD: It's difficult to go too in-depth without knowing Anu Solomon's status, but regardless of who lines up under center for UA, the Wildcats' ability (or inability) to run the ball will be important. Nick Wilson rushed for over 200 yards against a very tough Utah defense last weekend and is the first-ever Wildcat to rush for over 1,000 yards as a freshman. He had some injury problems in the middle of the season but seems to be near 100 percent now and has three straight 100-yard games. If the Wildcats can pick up where they left off in the run game Friday, it may not matter whether it's Solomon or Jesse Scroggins who starts at QB, as long as either guy can hit open receivers often enough and avoid turnovers.
For ASU, the Sun Devils have to give Taylor Kelly time to throw. Kelly got it together eventually against Washington State, but he was sacked a ridiculous amount of times in the first half against a Cougars defense that's just not that good. The Wildcats don't have a tremendous pass rush, but they do have arguably the Pac-12's best defensive player in Scooby Wright. If Scooby is able to get after Kelly, whose confidence clearly isn't what it used to be, it could force Kelly into mistakes. But he's still an experienced three-year starter, and if he gets time to throw, he should be effective, especially if Jaelen Strong plays Friday. Strong is perfectly capable of torching the UA secondary.
HOS: Who is one player for each side that could have the biggest impact on the game?
SD: On the UA side, I'm going to be watching Tevis closely. He's a Tucson native and 0-2 against ASU as a starter on defense, and I'm sure that eats away at him, because I know he can't stand the Sun Devils. Tevis has had some huge games this season -- he's second on the team in tackles and sacks, third in tackles for a loss, has two interceptions and two forced fumbles. If it wasn't for Scooby, he'd get a lot more attention. He's a senior and this will be his last chance to beat the Sun Devils. He's going to be extremely fired up Friday, and like I said, it'll probably have the effect of firing up the rest of the defense. If the Wildcats are able to force turnovers Friday, there's a good chance Tevis will have something to do with at least one of them.
For ASU, D.J. Foster is going to be important. Big things were expected from him this season, and he's had very good games, but he's also disappeared at times. He'll need to have a good game on the ground, but he'll also be depended on in the passing game -- he has more receiving yards this season than any other Pac-12 tailback. He was fantastic filling in for Marion Grice in last year's Territorial Cup, and he'll probably be just as important to ASU's success this year.
HOS: What does home field really mean in this game? Do you believe a day game in Tucson on a Friday will make a difference?
SD: Last season's game notwithstanding, it doesn't seem to mean much. The road team has won 13 of the last 22 overall meetings, and ASU has won 5 of 7 games in Tucson dating back to 2000. With that said, considering how much is on the line Friday, Arizona Stadium should be especially noisy. Also, this will be the first Territorial Cup matchup since the completion of the north end zone facility that was under construction during their last meeting in Tucson, which should make this year's game louder than the last one. Even with the road team's success in the last couple decades, if I were UA, I'd definitely rather be playing this game in Tucson.
HOS: Give us your prediction. How you see this game playing out?
SD: As a UA grad, I admit it's difficult for me to see clearly when it comes to picking these games. There are really very few results that would surprise me, and I've picked ASU to win each of the last four Territorial Cups -- but I think the Wildcats are playing a little better right now on both sides of the ball. I'm picking them to win 37-29.