When Arizona State closed its 2012 regular season with a 41-34 defeat of rival Arizona, it gave the Sun Devils more than the Territorial Cup.
Head coach Todd Graham called the win a "turning point," on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call, setting the program on course for its 2013 South division championship.
Beating Arizona ensured the Sun Devils their first winning record since 2007, the first such finish for the program's outgoing seniors. More importantly for this year's team, Graham said it solidified the current crop of upperclassmen adopting the coaching staff's mission.
"We've had tremendous senior buy-in," Graham said. "The players are taking over and leading."
That was a pivotal moment for Arizona State. The Sun Devils went into Tucson, Ariz. losers of four straight, and fell behind the Wildcats by 10 points.
Graham said the final three-game stretch of last season was indicative of the team "taking ownership" of the program. Veterans like defensive tackle Will Sutton and safety Alden Darby taking ownership of the program has resulted in ownership of the Territorial Cup, and possibly the Pac-12 championship.
Washington State head coach Mike Leach saw a similarly seminal moment in his team's rivalry matchup a year ago. The Cougars limped into the 2012 Apple Cup date with Washington on an eight-game losing streak, which included a home defeat to Colorado for the Buffs' sole victory of the season. They salvaged the year with a 31-28 win over the Huskies that gave the program a tangible measure of progress in Leach's first season.
"[Beating Washington] did energize our offseason," Leach said.
The Cougars parlayed that into the program's best season in seven years, and potentially their first bowl game in a decade. They've also proven the naysayers wrong—naysayers athletic director Bill Moos certainly hasn't forgotten during Washington State's turnaround.
Christian Caple of The Olympian details the "NBT," no-bowl tickets list Moos devised as a response to the program's most vocal doubters.
Can the Huskies Get Over the Hump?
Entering Friday's Apple Cup against Washington State, the Washington Huskies are in very familiar territory with seven wins.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian's past three teams finished with identical 7-6 records, but their paths to that mark vastly differed. The 2010 Huskies ripped off three straight wins in the regular season to rally from a 3-6 record and make the postseason. Then, they knocked off No. 17 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
However, in the previous two campaigns, Washington sputtered to the finish line. The 2011 team dropped three of four in November, then surrendered 67 points in the Alamo Bowl. Last year, the Huskies tripped up following a four-game win streak to lose the Apple Cup and MAACO Bowl.
"'Finish' has been the mantra for us this last month," Sarkisian said.
Washington may have to finish strong without senior quarterback Keith Price, who suffered a shoulder injury in the Huskies' Week 12 loss at UCLA. Sarkisian said Price will be evaluated throughout the week, but the ultimate decision comes down to "the best interest of this football program."
Redshirt freshman Cyler Miles has thrown three touchdown passes since taking over in the second half against UCLA, including one last week in a 69-27 rout of Oregon State.
Sarkisian emphasized the team's collective frustration in the week leading up to their visit to Corvallis, Ore., and those frustrations were quickly exorcised at the Beavers' expense.
The Huskies built a 48-0 lead and held Oregon State scoreless for three quarters. A similar energy will make them tough to beat this Friday, and Sarkisian said generating it "starts with practice and preparation."
Practice Makes Perfect (and Highlight Shows) for Arizona
If Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson's diving save to linebacker Scooby Wright last week against Oregon looked rehearsed, that's because it was.
"We practiced that scenario in August, and it came into play three months later," Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Richardson's highlight-reel play on Oregon wide receiver Bralon Addison's drop set up quarterback Marcus Mariota's first intercepted pass of the season.
Utah "Between a Rock and a Hard Spot" with Quarterback Travis Wilson's Uncertain Future
Utah coaches won't know the long-term status of sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson for three months at the earliest, head coach Kyle Whittingham said Tuesday, well after National Signing Day on Feb. 5.
Wilson's concussion examinations following the Utes' Nov. 9 loss to Arizona State revealed a pre-existing injury to an intracranial artery, which provides blood to the brain. The condition could end Wilson's career,
"It puts us between a rock and a hard spot," Whittingham said.
Utah has five young quarterbacks on the roster without Wilson. The group includes Wilson's backup, former walk-on sophomore Adam Schulz, and highly-touted freshman Conner Manning, who is redshirting.
"We did have one scholarship allotted for a quarterback, and we do have a commitment," Whittingham said. The commitment is from Rivals.com 3-star prospect Donovan Isom of Destrehan, La.
"Not knowing Travis’s status…we’ve got some deicisions to make," Whittingham added.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.