The 2011 football season for the Arizona Wildcats was previewed by many to be a transitional year, largely the result of losing three of the most talented defensive lineman in the nation to the NFL and starting the season with a promising but inexperienced offensive line. The long term optimism that is associated with rebuilding gave way early in the schedule when season-ending injuries occurred at the same time in which the team faced and were defeated by four consecutive nationally ranked teams. The Wildcats have since become a team with no direction, highlighted by the fact that an entirely new coaching staff will be sought at season’s end.
Tim Kish took over as interim head coach for Mike Stoops, who was fired in October after a loss at Oregon State. Stoops’ tenure at the U of A has both fans and critics but there is little doubt that he helped redirect a program that had been in shambles. He elevated the program to three consecutive bowl games, but consecutive losses to end the 2010 season followed by disastrous beginnings to the 2011 season brought the spirited Stoops era to an end.
The 2011 season looked like it could possibly take a positive turn after the U of A blew out UCLA at home in front of a national audience. Unfortunately for Wildcat fans, that win over the Bruins remains the sole highlight of the season.
Yet the rivalry between the U of A and ASU often transcends the records from that season. History has shown that seasons are salvaged or destroyed by the results from this annual year-end rivalry game. Therefore, there remains one more opportunity for the Wildcats to end the season with the long-term optimism that existed at the start of the year by a victory in Tempe against the Sun Devils. This is not lost on the U of A.
“This (game) encompasses the cities, the universities, student body; I think it is huge for everybody that is concerned,” said Arizona Interim Head Coach Tim Kish. “Even the cactus that grow here in the south root for us.”
This is a game that is always of great importance to seniors on the squad, who measure their legacy by their record against their chief rival. “Not too many rival schools can say they leave with a majority of the wins. Most are usually equal,” explained U of A Senior Safety Rob Golden, who can go 3-1 against ASU in his career with a win Sunday.
Pride is not just on the line for the current players, but former players as well. Former Wildcat great and current Defensive Line coach Joe Salave’a, along with other coaches and former players, have gone out of their way to mention the history of the rivalry to the team.
“I know what’s in my heart with this game. And we started today giving the players what the history is all about, the Territorial Cup and how long this game has been played,” Salave’a said.
It is not unusual for the results of this annual rivalry game to be the best indicator for the season to come. ASU used their victory in the “Duel in the Desert” last season to catapult their momentum and their new found swagger into this season. Now the Wildcats have the chance to “walk the walk” as they begin the next chapter in their program. Despite a woeful year, a victory against the Sun Devils will eliminate the need for the Wildcats to “wait till next year.”