The Territorial Cup pits bitter rivals head-to-head in Tempe
Also known as the Duel in the Desert, the 120-year series â — fought for one of the oldest rivalry trophies in the sport â — has rarely been played for Pac-12 supremacy. But that does not mean the Duel isn't fierce, unpredictably, and often wildly entertaining.
This year's edition nearly saw both sides come in on lengthy losing skids. But Arizona State (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) snapped a three-game skid last week with a landscape-shaking upset of Oregon that bounced the Ducks from College Football Playoff contention and guaranteed the Sun Devils a bowl game.
Arizona (4-7, 2-6), on the other hand, is winless since improving to 4-1 on Oct. 5. The only way to salvage a disappointing season with a six-game losing skid is to spoil Senior Day in Tempe.
Arizona at Arizona State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 30 at 10 p.m. ET
Spread: Arizona State -13.5
When Arizona Has the Ball
Since it took a 17-13 lead into halftime over Washington on Oct. 12, Arizona's offensive performance has been dire. The Wildcats showed flashes of explosiveness in a 41-31 loss at Stanford and again for a half against Oregon State. But a bevy of injuries on the offensive line exacerbated the quarterback situation looming over Arizona's second half of the season.
Both Khalil Tate and Grant Gunnell have played equally since the Oct. 19 game at USC. Gunnell's made the last two starts, which produced Arizona's two lowest-scoring efforts of the season. However, hose games were on the road against No. 6 Oregon and vs. No. 7 Utah.
The Arizona State defense is fifth in the Pac-12 in points allowed. It hit a snag during the Sun Devils' losing streak but was outstanding in last week's win over Oregon; Arizona State became the first opponent to intercept Justin Herbert multiple times this season.
When Arizona State Has the Ball
Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels has been a breakout star for Arizona State this season with his crowning moment coming on a few deep-strike touchdown passes against Oregon. Facing the worst scoring defense in the Pac-12 this week, Daniels will have plenty of opportunities to exploit matchups with speedster wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby.
Running back Eno Benjamin has returned to last year's dominant form as the dual-threat Daniels has become more comfortable. Benjamin is a hard runner capable of grinding out yards, moving the chains, and delivering home-run rushes to the end zone.
Arizona's defensive coaching staff has undergone wholesale change through the season, with little positive results. The Wildcats enter the game ranked 127th in total defense and 122nd in scoring defense. Another rough outing to close out the campaign seems likely.
Arizona's strong September withered with dizzying speed. Avoiding a seven-game losing streak headed into the offseason may not be motivation enough to lead a dramatic turnaround, but the Territorial Cup has produced more surprising results in the past. 2011 stands out as the quintessential example.
Still, Arizona State's emotional high of beating Oregon and earning bowl eligibility may carry the Sun Devils into another strong performance at home. Daniels is a breakout star.
Prediction: Arizona State 42, Arizona 24
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.