Arizona State and UCLA have cultivated an intriguing rivalry in the five years since Todd Graham and Jim Mora arrived as head coaches at the respective programs.
The Sun Devils and Bruins were both in the mix for Pac-12 South division titles in the first few years of each regime, with both reaching a Pac-12 Championship Game in that time. Wins on the road over the other were pivotal to the divisional title prospects of both, with UCLA winning a 45-43 shootout in Tempe in 2012 and Arizona State a 38-33 nail-biter in '13.
UCLA's 62-27 romp in 2014 was an aberration in what has otherwise been a wildly competitive series. Last year's 23-20 final, in which quarterback Josh Rosen went down with a season-altering shoulder injury, followed the trajectory of close scores, but also defied the recent trend of road teams winning.
In the Graham-Mora years, the visitors are 4-1 in Arizona State-UCLA matchups. Following that trend would ensure Arizona State (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12) bowl eligibility, but the Bruins (4-5, 2-4) return to the Rose Bowl, where they're undefeated on the season. They need to keep that trend alive to keep their bowl aspirations alive as well, as they must win two of their final three games.
Arizona State at UCLA
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 9:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Network
Spread: UCLA -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Josh Rosen chosen to play?
After a series of big hits knocked him from the lineup Oct. 28 at Washington, Rosen missed the Nov. 3 trip to Utah. The difference in UCLA's offense was evident.
Though Devon Modster showed promise with some deep balls and a 7-of-7 first half, offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was forced to go deep into the playbook to keep the Bruins competitive with the Utes. It didn't last long.
Rosen returned to practice this week and appears likely to start. There's no question UCLA is better with him behind center, as the Bruins boast one of the most prolific passing attacks in college football when he's healthy. Keeping him protected and in the lineup is critical, but it will be difficult against an Arizona State defense known for frequent and varied blitz packages.
2. Run Devils
Arizona State comes into Saturday night's matchup fresh off its best rushing performance of the season. Running back Demario Richard (above, right) deluged Colorado with 189 yards, a personal best, while quarterback Manny Wilkins went off for nearly 100 yards on the ground.
That spells trouble for a UCLA defense that has been dreadful against the rush, allowing 303 yards per game via the run on the season. Only Tulsa has been worse among FBS teams.
UCLA has struggled in particular against offenses with running quarterbacks, so while dealing with Richard and running back partner Kalen Ballage is its own headache, Wilkins could cause even more problems.
3. Last possession wins it?
Given these two teams' history of going down to the wire, coupled with their offensive proficiency and sometimes-lackluster defense, this matchup could come down to the very last possession.
With Rosen airing it out to UCLA's deep rotation of pass-catchers against a young Sun Devils secondary, and Arizona State hitting the Bruins with a bevy of ball carriers to exploit a dismal run defense, Saturday just might set a point total bar for basketball head coaches Steve Alford and Bob Hurley when these two universities face off again later on the hardwood.
While the championship implications that once factored into this series are now gone, playing for bowl eligibility ensures that there are still high stakes for both Arizona State and UCLA.
Getting much of a gauge on either team has been a challenge. Arizona State had two outstanding defensive performances against Washington and Utah, and played well on that side of the ball for the comeback stretch last week against Colorado, but maintaining that high level of play has been a tall task.
UCLA has been bad on defense much of the season, but the offense has been able to pick up the slack. The Bruins have been especially good at the Rose Bowl.
Because of the uncertainty, a competitive and wildly entertaining game seems likely. UCLA's injury issues and run-game deficiencies give Arizona State an edge it should be able to exploit to bowl eligibility, and the Sun Devils' first three-game winning streak over the Bruins since 1995-99.