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Arizona Wildcats vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Preview and Prediction


In 116 years and 89 meetings, Arizona and Arizona State have had ample opportunity to build up both history and animosity. 

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Just how soon into their tenures did head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham, hired at Arizona and Arizona State before the 2012 season, learn of the Territorial Cup rivalry's significance? 

"Instantly," Graham laughed. "Right after my [introductory] press conference, I met with a group of former players and prominent fans, supporters, and I got a real strong impression of how important it was."

The in-state rivalry's importance took on new meaning last season when the teams met in Tucson with a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game at stake. 

This year's encounter, the 90th in Territorial Cup history, has no such implications. However, Arizona State is playing for bowl eligibility at 5-5. Fresh off an upset win over Utah, Arizona is looking to ensure its fourth straight finish above .500 under Rodriguez. 

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Arizona at Arizona State

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)


Spread: Arizona State -6 

Three Things to Watch

1. Arizona State Going to the Ground 

A potent, multifaceted run game had been the hallmark of the Arizona State offense under coordinator Mike Norvell, but the Sun Devils struggled to establish much consistency on the ground early in the season. 

The return of power-back Kalen Ballage through the season's first month reignited the Sun Devils with the run, and the last three games they've been clicking in that phase. Arizona State has scored multiple rushing touchdowns in its last three outings, and gone for totals of 344 and 202 yards in that stretch. 

Arizona comes into Tempe with the nation's No. 86-ranked run defense, and a three-game stretch allowing 201, 223 and 229 yards on the ground. 

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An injury-ravaged linebacker corps has contributed to Arizona's woes stopping the run, and the loss of Jake Matthews in the win over Utah only compounds the Wildcats' issues. 

Look for Arizona State to come at Arizona with the run early and often. 

2. Arizona's Quarterback Question

Preparing for Arizona this season has meant preparing for two different quarterbacks. Anu Solomon is the Wildcats' clear No. 1, but since sustaining an injury in September against UCLA, reserve Jerrard Randall has seen repeated opportunities. 

Solomon played what Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham called the quarterback's best game of the year, saying the Utes defense "had no answer for him." However, it was Randall leading Arizona's game-winning drive in double-overtime, connecting with Nate Phillips on Randall's only completion of the night. 

Solomon's status is uncertain as of Wednesday. The sophomore is a much more reliable passer, but Randall's speed running out of the pocket could be an asset against Arizona State's blitz-happy defense. 

3. Turnover Battle

Both Arizona and Arizona State fall on the negative side of the season-long turnover battle: Arizona State at minus-two (-2), Arizona at minus-three (-3). 

Turnovers have directly impacted the success of both tremendously, too. Arizona State is coming off a remarkable plus-four (+4) turnover margin last week in its come-from-behind defeat of Washington. 

In each of the Sun Devils' previous three games — all losses — they landed on the negative side. 

Meanwhile, Arizona is plus-four (+4) overall in its six wins, but a whopping minus-seven (-7) in losses. With Arizona State's propensity for applying pressure with the blitz, and the Wildcats' struggles with center-to-quarterback exchanges throughout the season, the turnover battle could tell the outcome Saturday. 

Final Analysis

Last year's thriller in Tucson arguably marked the pinnacle of the Rodriguez era at Arizona. It sealed the Wildcats' Pac-12 Championship Game berth and the program's first time reaching the 10-win milestone since 1998.

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The Wildcats' backslide this season nearly went code red after an embarrassing 49-3 loss on Halloween at Washington. A hard-fought loss at USC leading into last week's upset of Utah salvaged Arizona's season, in that it both booked a bowl game and proved the Wildcats could still play with the division's top-tier teams.

Arizona State hasn't had a moment as dire as Arizona's Washington loss. Each of the five teams to beat the Sun Devils this season have better records, and with the exception of USC, Arizona State went into the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win. 

Arizona State's been the better team much of this season, and it should show Saturday. While records and previous performances matter little in any contest, it's particularly been the case in the Territorial Cup historically. 

But with a bowl bid on the line at Arizona State's Senior Day, the Sun Devils should assert their superiority and outlast their rivals to give Graham his third Territorial Cup in four years. 

Prediction: Arizona State 41, Arizona 31

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.