A Walter Cronkite Sports Network Production
It’s our desert
Arizona State is ready for what every member of the team calls the most important game of the year
(Photo: ASU Athletics)
Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham was reduced to tears with a victory over the UCLA Bruins that secured the team a place in the Pac-12 Championship against Stanford.
With one more win against a team with losses to Washington, Washington State, USC and UCLA, each of whom the Sun Devils beat earlier in the year, ASU would lock up home field advantage against Stanford next week in the most important game of Graham’s career.
Yet each player and coach on the team would disagree.
Instead they would say that the most important game is against a four-loss team that has not once cracked the AP Top 25 poll.
“This game is the absolute, most important game of our season, it doesn’t matter what the record is of each team,” senior tight end Chris Coyle said. “When we come into this game, it’s going to be an all-out battle and we want to come home with the Territorial Cup once again.”
On a rivalry week in college football that features historic matchups like “The Iron Bowl” between Auburn and Alabama or “The Game” between Michigan and Ohio State, the oldest trophy in college football is awarded to the winner of the annual duel between the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils.
“Is this game more important than any other game we play? Yes it is,” Graham said. “It’s the most important game to us because it’s the most important game to our fans and to the history of our program.”
In 86 meetings all-time, the Wildcats lead the series 47-38-1, but in the most recent meeting ASU managed to rally from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to score 24 unanswered and earn a 41-34 victory.
While the ASU players know what it feels like to earn the Territorial Cup, a home victory would be a first for almost all players, as the road team has managed to earn the victory in each of the last four seasons.
“It’s huge to play Arizona at home, in front of our home crowd,” ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly said. “It’s rivalry week and guys are all fired up, having great practice.”
With an emotional high against UCLA in the week prior, there’s no sign that the Sun Devils will have any kind of letdown with the Pac-12 Championship on the horizon.
“How could you not? How could you not get back up?” Graham said. “You can’t be emotional.”
The second-year head coach has preached intensity all season, but his lessons of discipline have also hit home.
“There are a lot of emotions and Coach Graham has been on us all week, telling us that we have to stay mentally focused on what we have to do,” Coyle said. “So as long as we keep our composure, it doesn’t matter what they do, it’ll be like water off a duck’s back.”
Arizona State is fourth in the nation at avoiding penalties, as they average just 29.3 yards of penalties per game. In a heated rivalry game that certainly has the potential to feature emotions running high, Graham wants his team to play with the same level of discipline that has them just two victories from a Rose Bowl berth.
“We’re not going to act any different than we usually do,” Graham said. “We’re going to be extremely disciplined, we’re going to extremely poised, we’re going to be physical and play the game the way the Sun Devils play it.”
With the added incentive of Senior Day adding to the importance of the game, All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton isn’t concerned that his playing days at Sun Devil Stadium are completely through.
“We’re going to have one more at home,” Sutton said. “We should beat, no matter what, rivalry game or not, we should beat U of A. We beat them and we’ll get another home game, so we’ll have two senior days.”
The 87th battle for the Territorial Cup will kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium and will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.