Arizona vs. Arizona State: The Territorial Cup


Arizona State won last year’s game in Tucson, Ariz. 41-34 (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

Every football game starts the same way: a coin flip. Heads or tails, it is all the same odds and can go either way on any given flip.

Just like the Territorial Cup.

Year after year, especially as of late, it is one of the most unpredictable games each season. Seven of the last nine games have been decided by seven points or less, with the past four being decided by a total of 15 points. The teams have also split the last 20 meetings.

It is not just recent history that shows these games have been wild. Here is a quick look at the history of the nation’s oldest grudge match:

  • In 1899, the Tempe Normal School defeated Arizona 11-2, which was followed by a Thanksgiving meal. The Sun Devils only won one other time until 1949, but then went on to win 24 of the next 33 games.
  • In 1975, ASU’s John Jefferson made a diving catch to secure a narrow win for the No. 2 ranked Sun Devils. This is known as “The Catch” in Tempe, Ariz.
  • Seven years later in 1982, Arizona defeated Arizona State and prevented the Sun Devils from reaching their first ever Rose Bowl.
  • In 1986, Arizona linebacker Chuck Cecil returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown in a shocking upset of undefeated No. 4 Arizona State. It is possibly the most memorable Territorial Cup game for Wildcat fans.
  • Just one year later, the game ended in a tie. Arizona State fumbled late in the game, which Arizona used to tie the game on a last-second field goal. This dethroned the reigning Pac-10 champions and kept alive the Wildcats’ non-losing streak, which eventually lasted nine years.
  • A decade later in 1997, the unranked Wildcats defeated No. 12 Arizona State in a game that came down to a controversial touchdown and kept the Sun Devils from a second consecutive Pac-10 championship.
  • The first big win of the Mike Stoops era came in 2004 when the 2-8 Wildcats stunned the 8-2 nationally ranked Sun Devils by a touchdown.
  • The away team has won each of the last four years, with Arizona State winning 41-34 last year in Tucson, Ariz.

We might as well expect the impossible for now on.

Both teams have their superstar playmaker: Arizona State running back Marion Grice and Arizona running back Ka’deem Carey. Grice has 20 total touchdowns this year, but his status for the game remains questionable as a result of a leg injury suffered last week. If he can’t go, sophomore D.J. Foster should start in his place. On the other end, Carey broke five school records last week in only his third season of eligibility, asserting himself as one of the best offensive players in Arizona history. As the question of an early exit to the pros is increasing, this may be the last time Carey plays in the Duel in the Desert.

The Arizona State offense has been nearly unstoppable, averaging 41.2 points per game, good for 11th in the nation. They fill face an Arizona defense that has improved immensely from 2012 and last week forced Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to throw his first two interceptions of the season. The Arizona offense has been inconsistent and relies on the play of quarterback B.J. Denker, who will have quite a challenge ahead of him. The Sun Devils defense features the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in defensive tackle Will Sutton and the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week in linebacker Chris Young.

Both programs started a new direction last year by hiring head coaches in the offseason. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham got the best of Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez in their first meeting last year in Tucson. Graham has continued that momentum to a 9-2 record and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game as South Division Champions.

The Wildcats would love to play spoiler. The Sun Devils are favored by 12 points with a win over the 7-4 Wildcats, they will host the Stanford Cardinal for the rights to play “The Grandaddy of Them All” on January 1. If they lose, they will be headed back to Palo Alto, Calif. for the Pac-12 Championship.

Stanford’s new favorite team, Arizona, would thoroughly enjoy another Wildcat upset of a highly ranked opponent.

The Wildcats are coming off by far their greatest performance of the season, absolutely dismantling the then No. 5 Oregon Ducks in a shocking upset by a score of 42-16. Can Arizona bring this momentum to Tempe, Ariz. and spoil their rival’s chances of hosting a Pac-12 championship? We will find out under the lights at 7:30 p.m. (MST) on Saturday.

Gentlemen, call it in the air…