With the state of Arizona divided between Sun Devils and Wildcats, Thursday night’s showdown will determine which side has bragging rights for 365 days. Last season, the Wildcats celebrated on Frank Kush Field following Alex Zendejas’ last gasp 32-yard field goal.
In the 2010 rendition of the Territorial Cup, Dennis Erickson would like nothing other than duplicating that celebration at Arizona Stadium this week.
The last time Dennis Erickson brought his Devils to Tucson, Arizona head coach Mike Stoops got the better of the postgame handshake with a 31-10 victory.
However, this year’s matchup pits the stingy Arizona defense versus a young, but promising starting quarterback, Brock Osweiler.
Osweiler will make his second ever start in a college football game at the Old Pueblo. However, Osweiler’s first career start took place at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium. The Kalispell, Montana native did not get to see his progress through, as Osweiler was injured before halftime.
But Brock Osweiler is healthy now, and is coming off of a 380-yard, four-TD performance against UCLA. To add to his stats, Osweiler also utilized his legs to escape pressure, and keep the defense honest with six carries for 35 yards.
The key number from his performance was zero turnovers. Prior to Osweiler being inserted into the lineup, Steven Threet was pretty careless with the football in crucial situations.
Many fans have wondered how the season would have unfolded if Brock Osweiler was the starter from day one, not the season finale.
But that is in the past, and Osweiler is moving forward with confidence and determination to bring the Territorial Cup back to Tempe.
However, Arizona quarterback, Nick Foles might have something to say about that. Foles was not exactly spectacular in last season’s Duel in the Desert, but did enough to earn the victory.
Foles’ 148 yards and zero touchdowns were actually dwarfed by the much-maligned Sun Devil quarterback Danny Sullivan’s 168 yards and two touchdowns. However, Foles was credited with the win, and will go for a second straight victory over his “former school.”
Most fans forget that Nick Foles was recruited and eventually committed to former Sun Devil coach Dirk Koetter. Foles was slated to replace the great Rudy Carpenter until the coaching change was made following the 2006 Territorial Cup.
After eventually committing to Michigan State following Erickson’s hire, Foles then bolted from East Lansing, Michigan and transferred to the University of Arizona.
Foles and Osweiler will face off for the first time, and maybe for a second time next year in Tempe. But the focus remains on Thursday night.
Foles seems to have the better-known weapons, but the Sun Devils roster is loaded with young, athletic skill position players.
However, many of ASU’s young players remember the taste of last season’s defeat at home. No longer is it an excuse to be young and inexperienced.
For only 13 seniors on ASU’s roster, only one is projected to start. Kerry Taylor, the Sun Devil’s lone senior starting receiver, remembers beating Arizona at home in ’07, but recent memories have left an empty and disgusted feeling.
Everyone else on ASU’s roster shares that same sentiment. Victories against your rival are tough to come by, but eventually the tide will turn. Currently, the Wildcats are on a two-game winning streak against their rivals from Tempe.
All great things must come to an end, and Arizona is riding a three-game losing streak in 2010. With big losses to Stanford and Oregon on the road, the Wildcats fell to the USC Trojans during their last home game.
The Wildcats and Sun Devils share one common trend: the opponent their last victory came against. Both ASU and U of A beat UCLA (29-21) in their last victory.
However, Arizona has not won a game since October 30, and that was a bit of a struggle, remembering how to win against a optimistic Sun Devil squad might make an eighth win that much more difficult.
Certainly, both teams and fans would like to have much higher stakes for this contest, but a victory for either team will make their year seem perfect.
Arizona is no longer in contention for a Rose Bowl berth, or a BCS berth, which many in Tucson nearly guaranteed in October, but all of that optimism has shifted up Interstate 10.
Sun Devil fans believed they had a team on the rise this season, and early on the improvement was evident against Wisconsin and Oregon. Although, the same silly mistakes hindered any growth for a middle-of-the-road Pac-10 team.
Turnovers, careless penalties, and indecisive offensive line play left ASU with a less than stellar season record.
Believe it or not, the Sun Devils could be riding a four game winning streak heading into this game, but instead, ASU is 2-2 in their last four games.
As Arizona was embarrassed by Stanford and overpowered by USC at home, the Sun Devils kicked away a victory at the Coliseum, and watched an officiating crew unlawfully penalize a “targeted” defensive player as Stanford drove down the field for the game-winning touchdown.
The Sun Devils might not reach a bowl game, even with a victory over Arizona Thursday, but to end the 2010 season with a win against Arizona in Tucson would once again leave maroon and gold fans with high expectations heading into next season.
For the Arizona Wildcats, an Alamo Bowl berth is on the line. The Rose Bowl is the Pac-10’s pride and joy, but San Antonio wanted to get in the West Coast mix with high-flying offenses in their bowl game.
If Arizona does not notch a victory against their rivals, the Alamo Bowl will certainly look elsewhere. A team riding a potential four-game losing streak is never an attractive draw for a major bowl game.
There is plenty at stake Thursday night in Tucson, amongst the coaches, players, and of course the electrifying fans of both schools. Seniors on both sides will remember their last Duel in the Desert, and all involved will make the most out of their opportunity.
Even though both teams bolster exciting and high-scoring offenses and solid defensive units, the game will ultimately be decided in the waning moments once again.
Arizona’s Alex Zendejas kicked the Wildcats to victory last season. Rivalry games like this are normally close, so the kicking game is always key.
After a rough senior season, don’t be surprised if ASU senior kicker Tom Weber lines up and kicks the Sun Devil nation into complete jubilation as the clock strikes zero.