For Arizona State, the stage is set, with two games to play for all the marbles.
The first matchup in a two-game gauntlet begins at the Rose Bowl against the UCLA Bruins. The only idea in the heads of the players on both teams will be, "My school needs this victory!"
So with that being said, what will we, the fans, remember about this 2009 Sun Devil football season?
Right now, sitting with a 4-6 record with two games to play (just like last season), Arizona State is in line to start their third different quarterback in as many weeks. The man is sophomore Samson Szakacsy, who grew up about two hours north of the Rose Bowl.
Former starters Danny Sullivan and Brock Osweiler are all still a little banged up following the trip to Oregon. According to Dennis Erickson, Szakacsy showed enough in the second half against the Ducks to warrant a chance at revitalizing the season in Tempe.
And what better place to earn your first start than "The Granddaddy of Them All?"
And who knows, maybe Szakacsy makes the plays for ASU to earn bowl eligibility and turn the season into a success.
But can the California native bring the energy or spark to the offensive unit that they have desperately missed this season?
The UCLA Bruin coaching staff will certainly be knowledgeable of the athletic ability of Szakacsy while he is on the field. Even during broken play situations, when the pocket collapsed, the speedster managed to earn yards with his legs and keep the offense moving down the field.
Unfortunately against Oregon, the offense did not do enough in the fourth quarter to claw their way back into the contest, and the defense, for one of the few times this season, did not help themselves out either. Oregon rushed for 268 yards on the ground against the normally stifling ASU defense, and the Sun Devils boarded their flight with a four-game losing streak in hand.
Arizona State was in this same situation last season, heading into their final two games with a 4-6 record. Fans held onto the fact that the Sun Devils ended with a struggling UCLA squad at home and a trip to Tucson to face the Wildcats—their in-state rival who ASU had beaten in three straight meetings.
Sure, everything looked to be going according to script. The demoralized Bruins left Sun Devil Stadium last year wondering what hit them, as UCLA gave up four defensive touchdowns to the maroon and gold in a 34-9 ASU victory. Now, with a 5-6 record heading into the Territorial Cup, or Duel in the Desert, ASU liked its chances.
Sure, some of the talk on radio programs and in the newspapers surrounded the fact that ASU has had the Wildcats' number in recent seasons and former quarterback Rudy Carpenter "would not lose to Arizona."
And that was true, up until last year's meeting.
Led by Willie Tuitama at quarterback, Arizona finally managed to beat the Sun Devils in a must win game for both teams. The Wildcats laid a 31-10 beat down on ASU, and ruined any dreams of a fifth consecutive bowl-bound season. Instead, U of A dealt the Sun Devils their first bowl-less season since 2003.
Now in 2009, the story is eerily similar.
Erickson's squad now has to travel to the Rose Bowl and face off against a UCLA team that has begun to show signs of life again. UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel witnessed the Bruins' five-game losing streak during the meat of their schedule this season, and in the past two weeks UCLA has righted the ship against the Washington schools.
Now, with a 5-5 record, the Bruins are looking to earn bowl eligibility this upcoming Saturday against Erickson's Sun Devils.
The Bruins' chances of earning their sixth win of the season seem a lot higher this weekend versus Arizona State than in two weeks against the reeling USC Trojans at the Coliseum.
Last season the Sun Devils had a proven leader and warrior at quarterback in Rudy Carpenter. This season, it appears that Samson Szakacsy will have to shoulder the burden of getting Arizona State back into the bowl season.
So, with the stage set for both teams, ASU and UCLA embark on their two-game elimination rounds beginning this Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
This contest might shape up to be the under-the-radar game of the week in the PAC-10, so tune in to see all the hard hitting action.