Have you ever known someone who you don’t like, yet people say you’re very similar and that just makes you dislike even them more?
That’s Arizona Wildcats head football coach Rich Rodriguez and the Arizona State Sun Devils.
“I don't look in the mirror and look at ASU,” Rodriguez said at Pac-12 Media Day Wednesday. “I promise you that. I could care less what they're doing.”
But beyond the rivalry is a deeper truth that. Indeed, Arizona and ASU are on parallel paths whether they would like to admit it or not.
Just two seasons ago, the Territorial Cup decided which team would head to Santa Clara for the Pac-12 Championship Game.
In 2016, the game meant a heck of a lot less. The Sun Devils and Wildcats both failed to reach six wins for the first time since 2003, sputtering all season long. ASU lost its final six games of 2016, while Arizona lost eight of its final nine games, beating only the Sun Devils in the final week of the season to capture the Territorial Cup for the second time in three years.
Now, both Rodriguez and ASU head coach Todd Graham seem to be firmly on the hot seat, needing at least a bowl appearance to remain at their current jobs.
Despite immense pressure to win, all either squad can do is move forward. Rodriguez seemed to speak for both programs, telling the assembled media that you can’t ignore a forgettable season like last year, but you must learn from it moving forward.
“I don't think you should bury your head in the sand and kind of pretend it wasn't there,” Rodriguez said. “It was there. You've got to evaluate yourself, your staff, your program, and everything that you're doing so you don't go through it again.”
Going through it again could be disastrous for not only the coaches, but the two programs as a whole. But there are holes to fill throughout both rosters, starting with the most important man on the field; the quarterback.
Arizona’s Brandon Dawkins and ASU’s Manny Wilkins both had stretches of productivity last season, but they’re not without questions going into 2017. Rodriguez said Dawkins is coming along, but having others try for the job can only help.
“I think Brandon is learning how to be a quarterback from learning leadership and all of that,” Rodriguez said. “But he's a good football player. Really good football player. But the best way to expedite his process is to have competition.”
Dawkins will compete with sophomore Khalil Tate and former third overall pick in the MLB Draft Donavan Tate, a 26-year-old freshman.
Wilkins opened camp as the starter, but ASU has a stable of signal callers ready to take his place. Alabama transfer Blake Barnett and DIllon Sterling-Cole are ready at the start of camp, with Brady White waiting in the wings if he gets healthy before the season ends.
To fill out the rest of their needs, both schools found an increased emphasis on recruiting their home state. ASU brought in nine in-state freshmen on scholarship, while the Wildcats added five of their own.
“There's good football in the state,” Rodriguez said. “It's just spread out. Most of the population is in the Valley, so we go in there.”
The question remains whether these young pieces will be able to return these programs to the national spotlight they shared just a couple short seasons ago or if ASU and Arizona will continue to spin their tires in an attempt to find consistent success.
Either way, whether Rodriguez wants to admit it or not, he does see ASU in the mirror, it’s just not what either he or Graham wants to see.