Arizona State Football: 3 Games That Will Define the Future of the Program
The Arizona State Sun Devils were once again invited to the college football "adult table," and this time they didn't embarrass themselves. I guess the third time really is the charm.
The Sun Devils' two prior trips under the national spotlight ended up in losses to Stanford and Notre Dame, and it looked as if they might continue that trend late in the game in the Rose Bowl Saturday night.
No. 17 Arizona State (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) traveled to Pasadena and defeated No. 17 UCLA (8-3, 5-3 Pac-12) 38-33 on the back of a strong offensive showing in the first half and a consistent defensive presence throughout the game.
What lies ahead for the Sun Devils is destiny.
With the upset of the Oregon Ducks at the hands of their rival Arizona Wildcats, the Sun Devils now have the rare opportunity to not only exact revenge on the team that handed them their lone conference loss, but also against a team that spoiled their perfect season in the Rose Bowl 17 years ago.
November 30: Arizona Wildcats
One cup to rule them all.
The Territorial Cup is certified as college football's oldest trophy awarded to Tempe Normal School on November 30, 1899. Now 114 years later, to the day, the teams will meet once again for the honor of the Cup.
After the initial victory for the "Normals," the University of Arizona would dominate the series in the early years. The teams played sporadically until 1946, when it became an annual match. Arizona leads the series 47-38-1 on the backs of a 20-2 start to the series. Arizona was so dominant in the early years, it won by shutout in 12 of the first 22 meetings.
Arizona State would improve and later make the rivalry one-sided on its behalf, winning nine straight and 16 of 19 from 1963-1981. The rivalry then shifted back to Arizona as the Sun Devils would go winless for nine straight seasons including the Cup's only tie in 1987.
Over the past two decades, the series is dead even with each team winning 10 games apiece, but the real story is that the home team is 8-12 in those matchups and only 4-9 in this century.
The Arizona Wildcats (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) are looking to play spoiler once again riding the momentum of the upset of No. 5 Oregon Ducks. If the Sun Devils defeat the Wildcats at home, they will host the Pac-12 Championship Game in Tempe where they haven't lost a game since October 27—of last year.
Prediction: Arizona 31, Arizona State 42
December 7: Pac-12 Championship Game
The No. 9 Stanford Cardinal (9-2, 7-2 Pac-12) have shown flashes of brilliance this year with two wins over top-10 ranked teams. They have also shown signs of weakness with two losses to unranked teams on the road.
The Cardinal embarrassed Arizona State in Week 4 of the regular season, taking a 29-0 halftime lead at "The Farm." The Sun Devils would eventually wake up and score 21 points in the fourth quarter, but it would be too little, too late for Coach Graham's Arizona State squad as they lost 42-28.
The lone blemish on Arizona State's conference record stings, but that is an issue that will have to be addressed after the huge game against Arizona.
If the Sun Devils can prevail over Arizona, they will host their first ever Pac-12 Championship Game and welcome Stanford into their house, a daunting task for any team, but for a Stanford team that has lost two of their past three road games, it will be a near impossibility.
Prediction: Stanford 24, Arizona State 31
January 1: The Rose Bowl
The Granddaddy of Them All.
This is it, sports fans, what every Sun Devil football player dreams of. The ultimate goal, the pinnacle of perfection, the promised land.
As of this writing, it is safe to say that No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida State will be facing in the National Championship Game, at the Rose Bowl on January 6. Barring any setbacks against the Michigan schools in the next two weeks, the Ohio State Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) will return to Pasadena for their 15th Rose Bowl appearance.
The Sun Devils have considerably less experience in playing on New Year's Day, sporting a 1-1 Rose Bowl record. That one loss is what is stuck in the craw of so many Sun Devil fans, players and coaches.
The 1996 Sun Devils (11-0) led by Jake Plummer and a defense anchored by Pat Tillman were the consensus No. 2 ranked team in the country and a victory in the Rose Bowl would secure the schools' first National Championship due to No. 3 Florida defeating No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. The only thing in their way was the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-1).
The Sun Devils trailed 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter and stepped up big time by blocking a Buckeye field goal attempt in the final five minutes. Jake Plummer once again worked his late-game magic by scrambling 11 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Buckeyes' final drive of the game led by Joe Germaine will forever be tainted in Sun Devil faithful minds by the two pass interference calls that led to the fateful pass to David Boston with 19 seconds left in the game. The Buckeyes' 20-17 victory would dash the hopes and dreams of everybody in the Sun Devil family and Arizona State would return to mediocrity.
Could this game happen? Can the Sun Devils finally even the score with the Buckeyes and lay the 17-year-old loss to rest? Although it won't be for a national championship, a Rose Bowl victory over Ohio State will forever change the course of this football program, elevating the team into the elite of college football.
David is the Featured Columnist of Arizona State Athletics for B/R. Follow him on Twitter at @asudave.