Arizona St.-Arizona Preview
Not only is the Territorial Cup on the line this year between No. 12 Arizona and No. 13 Arizona State, this matchup will mark the first in which both will enter as ranked squads since 1986.
While the focus will be on the field, both schools can be forgiven if they are also taking a peek at the out-of-town scoreboard in Tucson.
That’s because the Wildcats and Sun Devils need a victory Friday as well as some help in order to capture the Pac-12 Conference’s South Division crown.
These teams are tied with No. 9 UCLA for the division lead. The Bruins will clinch the South with a victory Friday at home over Stanford in a contest that starts at the same time as this one.
Should UCLA lose, the winner of this matchup will meet No. 3 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game Dec. 5 in Santa Clara.
"This game is the single most important game of the year for us and for our fans," Sun Devils coach Todd Graham said. "Obviously it has a lot more meaning, both teams are going for their tenth win and the Pac-12 South championship is on the line, there is definitely a little extra importance added to this game."
Graham is the reigning Pac-12 coach of the year. He has taken both matchups with Arizona (9-2, 6-2), including a 58-21 rout last season that propelled the Sun Devils into the Pac-12 title game.
He took over in Tempe the same year that Rich Rodriguez started coaching the Wildcats. Rodriguez is eager to finally break through in this rivalry.
"I think it has become more relevant nationally now because of the seasons we are both having," Rodriguez said. "You know that for your fans, particularly in state, that the rivalry game is going to mean a lot to them, but I promise it doesn’t mean any more to them than it does to the players and coaches."
Rodriguez said that quarterback Anu Solomon will be a game-time decision. Solomon was seen in a walking boot because of an apparent injury to his right foot that forced him out of last Saturday’s 42-10 rout at then-No. 20 Utah.
Solomon, who has thrown for 25 touchdowns, has battled through ankle problems most of the year. Jesse Scroggins finished up by completing 3 of 5 passes for 64 yards.
Arizona State (9-2, 6-2) expects to see Solomon running the Wildcats’ familiar spread offense.
"Unless his leg is cut-off I am pretty sure he will be out there," said Sun Devils defensive back Damarious Randall about Solomon.
The Sun Devils’ Taylor Kelly looks to finish his career with a 3-0 mark against the Wildcats. He turned in his best effort of the year last Saturday with a season-high four touchdown passes in a 52-31 rout of Washington State in his final home game.
It appears Kelly will have a major weapon back at his disposal since top receiver Jaelen Strong is expected to return after missing the Cougars game due to a concussion. Strong is fourth in the Pac-12 with 98.2 receiving yards per game with a team-high nine TD catches.
The Sun Devils’ D.J. Foster is seventh in the conference with an average of 88.0 rushing yards. He gained 124 with two scores in last year’s victory, and has gone 38 straight games with at least one reception.
"You have to account for him wherever he is on the field," Arizona safety Jared Tevis said. "They put him in the slot and at running back and they have a lot of playmakers who they try to get the ball to."
If Solomon can’t play, the Wildcats may want to give the ball more to Nick Wilson. The freshman running back is fourth in the conference with 108.5 yards per game, as he gained 218 with three scores last weekend for the second-highest yardage effort by anyone in a Pac-12 game all season.
"He’d be similar in the lines to the style of (Devontae) Booker from Utah," Graham said. "They’re a downhill, inside zone-based team, that’s what he is; he’s a really good inside zone runner."
Not only is this the first time these teams have both been ranked since 1986, it will be only the second meeting with both having at least nine wins (1975).
"It has all the components of a big-time game against a big-time opponent and it’s a rivalry, so it should be electric," Tevis said.
Arizona is No. 11 and Arizona State No. 13 in the College Football Playoff rankings.