Do you know what week this is?
Thanksgiving? True, but that’s not what I had in mind.
The week after we got our hopes up for the Rose Bowl only to have them ripped away reopening a decades-old wound? Now you’re just being cruel. Let me give you a hint:
ASU! (wonk-WONK-wonk) ASU! (wonk-WONK-wonk) ASU! (WONK-wonk-WONK)
Now do you feel it?
Rivalry week is here.
They say you can throw the records out the window in games like this and that’s good news for both teams. Arizona has tumbled in the league standings with two consecutive losses and ASU is staggering to the finish on a five-game slide. Very few eyes outside the Grand Canyon State will be tuning in to this one which would appear to give this year’s game little significance. But don’t tell that to any of the guys lining up in the trenches on Saturday, or any of the fans, families and alumni squaring off across the aisle or in the living room.
No hype, no national implications, just two neighboring schools doing battle for football bragging rights.
Ain’t it beautiful?
A year’s worth of pride is more than enough incentive but there’s plenty more on the line. The Cats are trying to win consecutive games in the series for the first time since – of course – 1997 and ’98. That was the final year of that glorious run when the UA went 13-3-1. Since then the Devils have fought back with a 7-3 run of their own. As the Zeros come to a close the Devils have already clinched a winning decade in the rivalry, their first since the ‘70s.
Arizona has locked up a better Pac-10 record than ASU this year which means the UA will finish ahead of ASU in the league standings for the second straight year. This is the first such streak for the Cats since three consecutive superior Pac finishes in 1992-’94.
The Wildcats are trying to use this game as a stepping stone to the Holiday Bowl. If we win out and Oregon beats OSU we finish no worse than a four-way tie for second. (The sixth place team in that scenario? Holy cow…USC.) Even if the Holiday passed on Arizona you have to think the Sun Bowl would snatch up the Cats in a second, so we can still have a very solid year – as long as we beat Arizona State.
That’s easier said than done. The UA hasn’t won at Sun Devil Stadium since we had hope for Mackovic (his first year, 2001).
You want some happier facts? Here are a few trivia questions you may want to use around the office or Thanksgiving dinner table:
Who has the most recent top-10 finish?
Arizona, 1998 to 1996
Who has the most recent current-BCS bowl win?
Arizona, 1993 to 1986
Who has the most recent bowl win?
Arizona, 2008 to 2005
Who has the most winning in-conference seasons in the Pac-10?
Arizona, 14 to 12, not counting this year
Who has the most head-to-head wins in Pac-10 era?
Arizona, 17 to 13
Who has the most head-to-head wins overall?
Arizona, 45 to 36
As far as that last one, don’t let anyone give you the “Look at the head-to-head since Arizona State College became a university” excuse. There’s a reason they call it “all time.” Look here, Normals/Owls/Bulldogs/Sun Devils. Just because you legally change your name doesn’t mean you’re not still the guy who got hung by his underwear in gym class.
The stats say if the Arizona offense plays well this weekend the Cats win. ASU hasn’t scored more than 21 points during their losing streak. They haven’t put up 28 against anyone in the Pac-10 and they’ve ended up in the teens (or worse) five times. This is not a good offensive team.
But they can play some D. Number one in the Pac-10 in total defense and pass defense, and #2 in rushing defense and scoring defense. Oh, and #1 in penalties.
The Devil D is talented and reckless and that’s what makes them dangerous. If this game were a cop movie the ASU defense would be the loose cannon that’s going to get someone killed. We just have to make sure it’s not our quarterback.
The Arizona O-line needs to take it personally. No one touches Nick Foles. Maintain your blocks until two seconds after the pass. We don’t need a repeat of 2005 and ’06 when Willie Tuitama left the game and a win left the building.
Speaking of leaving, here’s something for ASU fans to ponder: Dennis Erickson has coached at three Pac-10 schools. He has a nine-win season at each school. He has exactly one nine-win season at each school.
Here’s something for Wildcat fans to ponder: Our last two road games were Washington and Cal. You have every right to be terrified.
One thing I know for certain is Arizona better build (and maintain) a lead bigger than three points if we want to win. After dropping yet another close one last week the Versus stat is starting to take on a life of its own. The Cats are 0-2 this year in games decided by three points or less which makes it seven straight losses and 2-11 all-time for Mike Stoops. This is a bad thing.
The Wildcats need to score touchdowns early and often to take the hope from the Sun Devils and suck the life from the home crowd. A quiet Sun Devil Stadium means no upset, no ending the season on a high note…
And no WONK-wonk-WONK.