The duel for the Territorial Cup — the oldest rivalry trophy in the sport — spans multiple conferences, features countless unforgettable moments, and even predates Arizona statehood by 13 years. That familiarity has indeed bred contempt. Both sides of the series have genuine animus for the other.
In a year like this, with a truncated schedule and both teams coming in without a win on the season, claiming the Territorial Cup takes special significance. This game is about salvaging an entire campaign.
Arizona State at Arizona
Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Arizona State -11
When Arizona State Has the Ball
Ahead of the 2020 season, Arizona State generated some of the most buzz among Pac-12 teams thanks to the return of quarterback Jayden Daniels. The dual-threat playmaker Daniels, considered in some circles a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate before the season, has shown flashes of the explosiveness that garnered such attention.
But the Sun Devils were replacing plenty of critical players around Daniels, including deep-ball threat Brandon Aiyuk and workhorse running back Eno Benjamin. Chip Trayanum and Rachaad White are both averaging well over six yards per carry in Arizona State's two contests, and White's shined as a pass catcher as well, but the Sun Devils have had bouts of inconsistency in losses to USC and UCLA.
Against the Trojans, it came at the end of a game in which Arizona State led by two touchdowns. Against the Bruins, the Sun Devils started slow but came on for 18 consecutive points. Both defenses came with consistent pressure — and UCLA in particular succeeded in getting to Daniels in the backfield before his rushing opportunities could develop — which is something Arizona's struggled to do thus far in 2020.
The Wildcats have made considerable improvements on defense from a season ago, when that side of the ball was an absolute disaster. But of coordinator Paul Rhoads' cumbersome job in turning around Arizona's defense, sacks have yet to come. Generating opportunities against the explosive Daniels will be a tall order.
When Arizona Has the Ball
Since going back-and-forth with USC in its opener, Arizona's offense has sputtered. The Wildcats were completely shut down at Washington, then against both UCLA and Colorado, went ice cold in the red zone. Arizona's inability to finish drives has been its Achilles heel in 2020.
The Wildcats need to give Gary Brightwell opportunities to run for scores once inside the 20, as Brightwell's been excellent getting Arizona to that point on the field. However, with Grant Gunnell injured, young quarterback Will Plummer has been ineffective in those red-zone situations. Perhaps with Arizona State bringing a depleted secondary into Tucson — Jack Jones and Aashari Crosswell were suspended indefinitely earlier in the season, and Crosswell opted out to prepare for the NFL draft — the Wildcats can attack more efficiently with the pass. But that remains to be seen.
Contributing to these offensive woes has been the offensive line's ability to give quarterbacks time to throw. The Wildcats are allowing 4.25 sacks per game, and against an aggressive Arizona State defense, can anticipate another heavy pass-rush presence. Expect co-coordinators Marvin Lewis and UA alum Antonio Pierce to bring heat early and often.
Arizona State has not won four straight in the Territorial Cup series since the Frank Kush days of the 1970s. Kevin Sumlin is 0-2 in his first two attempts, including a heartbreaking collapse in 2018 that denied Arizona a bowl bid — heartbreaking for those in the southern part of the state, at least. The come-from-behind win in Herm Edwards' first Territorial Cup became an instant classic of the series for the folks in Tempe.
Edwards can make it three in a row in his tenure, and on paper, should. But this rivalry lives up to all cliches about such series. Things rarely unfold as expected. No matter which side claims the Cup, expect a tense affair.
Prediction: Arizona State 27, Arizona 24
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— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.