Following the blowout victory over Washington State last week, the Arizona State Sun Devils looked to regain their “swagger.”
However, it is quite easy to regain confidence and assurance in a program following a 42-0 beat down of the lowly Cougars. The only team not to accomplish that mission was the Big Sky’s own Montana State.
Clearly, the USC Trojans pose a completely different obstacle and mountain to conquer.
And then, there is the game behind the game.
Saturday night’s showdown has much stronger implications than just a single regular-season victory.
Both sides need a victory. For ASU, a bowl berth is on the line. For the Trojans, USC has to maintain their reputation as “one of” the conference’s elite.
In terms of elite status, USC and ASU have fought tooth and nail for recruits in each school’s home turf, normally the best flocking to downtown Los Angeles.
But that is not surprising.
The Trojans have long been national recruiters and have had the opportunity to pick the cream of the crop of high school athletes, regardless of state borderlines.
Since 2005, the USC Trojans have “snaked” four elite recruits from the Grand Valley state.
Do the names Everson Griffen, Kristofer O’Dowd and Devon Kennard ring a bell?
They should, because ASU would have started each one of those players from Day One in Tempe.
However, Griffen, O’Dowd and Kennard lived up to their billing and have produced since the first day they stepped on the campus that redefined competitive practices.
Those guys are studs, plain and simple.
Just imagine what ASU would look like with Kris O’Dowd at center, and that is in no way a shot at Sun Devils starting center Garth Gerhart.
O’Dowd is just a beast, and every coach in the country wishes they had five O’Dowds on their offensive line.
Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley certainly does.
Sun Devil fans, think about Kennard lining up as a rush defensive end with Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Magee and Shelly Lyons (before his season-ending injury) lining up behind him.
That would be a pretty formidable defense, but Sun Devil fans can only dream. However, they’re pretty content with the linebacking corps that is flying around currently.
What about from the USC perspective?
The Trojans have lost out to the Sun Devils in a few recruiting battles as well. Obviously, the first name that comes to mind is Vontaze Burfict.
Burfict was the top-rated linebacker by most, if not all, recruiting evaluators, and the Sun Devils wanted him badly. Although, so did everyone else.
ASU might have done a better job recruiting Burfict before the middle linebacker even made a visit. The Sun Devils ransacked the talent at Burfict’s high school, Corona Centennial, during his junior season.
In the end, the academic path towards graduation that ASU outlined was the ultimate deciding factor for Burfict.
Trojan fans are still wishing Burfict were wearing cardinal and gold, instead of maroon and gold.
Another big name signee that Dennis Erickson stole from the Los Angeles area was Omar Bolden. Not only did Bolden not choose USC, but he also gave the Trojans the old “fake out” by picking up a Sun Devil hat from under the table.
Bolden’s announcement was memorable and the gem in Erickson first recruiting class in Tempe.
With USC’s struggles in the secondary recently, an experienced, athletic cornerback would be vital at this point. Bolden would be that guy for Lane Kiffin’s Trojans.
Along with Burfict in the 2009 recruiting class, Corey Adams also turned down the Trojans. However, in this case, Adams was a local product from Scottsdale.
But Adams was an impact player on an undefeated Scottsdale Saguaro team that college recruiters salivated over each and every weekend.
Coaches from Florida, Ohio State, Oregon, Nebraska and USC all came knocking on Adams’ door, and he turned all of them down.
In the end, he stayed loyal to the hometown Sun Devils and Dennis Erickson.
High school athletes are attracted to many different attributes and characteristics of a college football program. One might be the campus or location of the university.
Some might be more inclined to play for a program with incredible facilities or even a rowdy home stadium environment.
The type of coach or caliber of a coach is also a major tipping point.
Other recruits might like flashy uniforms that can “literally” be seen from outer space.
In the end, recruits who come visit your school normally want to attend the best possible game, to experience the true atmosphere on gameday.
This Saturday’s game is a true weighing scale for the ASU Sun Devils, and from a USC perspective, the Trojans need this game just as bad, if not more than ASU.
Think about it: USC is 5-3 right now, already suffering a loss to lowly Washington three weeks earlier.
Southern California needs this win to save face as a “dominant Pac-10 program.” Losing to ASU isn’t the same as falling to the ultimate cellar-dweller Washington State, but to Trojan fans, the damage would still be the same.
The last time the USC Trojans had this “poor” of a record at this point of the season was Pete Carroll’s inaugural season in Los Angeles.
Yet, the Trojans are one game up on the Sun Devils, and ASU is jealous of that one game difference in record.
One game is a very big difference for both teams.
Normally at this point in the season, fans in Los Angeles are usually squaring away plans to invade the Rose Bowl and beat down another Big Ten opponent, or make flight plans to cheer on their team in another BCS bowl.
But this season is completely different.
No bowl game for the Trojans, unless you count last week's “mythical, self-proclaimed” bowl game against the Oregon Ducks.
The Sun Devils are still fighting for a bowl berth—whether it’s a one-in-a-million chance, it is still a chance.
And for recruits, this one game may sway opinions on each school’s football program.
If USC drops this game to the 4-4 Sun Devils, the questions might begin swirl about Lane Kiffin being the right guy to lead the Trojans.
On the other hand, if ASU manages to beat the Trojans for the first time since 1999, then the Sun Devils would finally have taken that next step towards becoming an elite Pac-10 program.
Not only will a win on the field being a major step for ASU, but beating the Trojans in L.A. will create even more inroads for recruiting.
As we all know, the foundation of a solid, consistent college football program is recruiting. A win over the Trojans on the field could translate into a lot more wins on the recruiting trail.