To those who expect a competitive, high-level performance from both teams out of tomorrow’s Territorial Cup: well, just don’t.
It’s not happening.
I don’t need to draw you how the success of Arizona’s and Arizona State’s seasons. Neither of the schools is bowl-eligible as of today, with negative records of relative mediocrity.
The Sun Devils, who looked pretty impressive with a 4-0 start, are currently going through a stretch in which they lost 6 of their last 7 games. Their 2-6 conference record is second-to-last in the Pac-12 (even though 5 different teams are sharing it).
The team with the worse record in the league? The Wildcats.
They are, as of today, one of the two Power Five teams left with a winless conference record - alongside Rutgers. Yep, that’s pretty bad. Arizona could be staring at a 10th loss if they can’t win at home against their historical rival.
The win/loss column of the two Arizona schools is definitely not the definition of pretty. Unfortunately, the product on the field is not either.
Both defenses cannot defend a thing. According to Bill Connelly’s S&P+ defensive ratings, ASU owns the 108th defense in the country while UA is ranked at the 111th spot (out of 128 teams, as a reminder).
Want to get in the details? Are you sure, really?
Let’s start with the good. Arizona State’s run defense appears at the 29th national rank. But the ditch gets (way) deeper now. ASU’s pass defense is, as you can guess, dead last in the country.
But do you think the Arizona defense could be worse? Well, in a way, kinda. The Wildcats can boast the 109th-best pass defense as well as the 89th-best run defense. Better or worse? You decide but it’s pretty awful for a FBS program.
Youth, injuries and structural issues are definitely reasons of this defensive debacle. You would expect the offenses to pick up the slack, but, well, it did not happen.
It started rather well for Arizona State. A young, inexperienced offense started off the season in a impressive fashion behind the smart play-calling of Chip Lindsey. Karen Ballage scored an NCAA-tying record of 7 touchdowns against Texas Tech in September.
But, shortly thereafter, the offensive efficiency went south. Quickly.
The offensive line suffered injuries. Quarterbacks went down one after another: Manny Wilkins followed by Brady White. ASU even had to burn Dillon Sterling-Cole’s redshirt... with little success. Coherently, the running backs could not produce early season’s numbers.
The injury bug and the youth revolution might have hurt Arizona’s offense even worse than its rival’s.
Three UA quarterbacks contracted injuries and Rich Rodriguez had to throw a tight end at the QB position a couple times. To cut it short, the most important players of the team were forced to stand up on the sidelines and the offense never clicked.
So, let’s recap. Both defenses cannot stop anything but both offenses find themselves stuck at a 4-way stop sign. One side has to give up.
Which side of the ball? Which team? I don’t know.
And if anybody knows, please, show yourself. Todd Graham or Rich Rodriguez would probably like to get a notice.
Enough with that cynical point of view, which, realistically, might not be a bad idea considering what direction the ASU and Arizona seasons took. The Territorial Cup is the schools’ last hope to a “successful” year.
Yes, it hurts using this word to qualify either season, but bringing the trophy home is even more crucial for each university at the end of such a year. It will make up for the fans’ disappointment on one side - maybe not entirely.
The other fanbase will reach darker places.
The Duel in the Desert is not going to be pretty to watch. But it will be a hard-fought game, with bowl eligibility at stakes for the Sun Devils, while the Wildcats will try to avoid a depressing winless Pac-12 record on the year.
You could understand it differently, of course. ASU will try to bury Arizona’s corpse in the Pac-12 cemetery; in the meantime, the Wildcats are hoping to destroy the Sun Devils hopes of getting bowl eligible.
Better than anything, right?
A classic #Pac12AfterWork scenario could even occur, to go along with drunk football of unexpected momentum swings and explosive plays out of nowhere (let’s dream for a second).
But, better than anything else, the game is probably going to be a nail-biter game from the first to the last whistle. Blood pressure will be high for 60 minutes. Money time will challenge your health.
Arizona State does not want to lose to Arizona. Arizona does not want to lose to Arizona State either. Why? Because they hate each other. But the winner is going to be crowned the least worse team of the state of Arizona.
And that’s worth something today after considering how bad 2016 went for both schools. There is no little win in a rivalry, and this year’s scenario might be even a little bit more true in the world of the Territorial Cup.