“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
So wrote Charles Dickens in his classic literary work, “A Tale of Two Cities.” For almost a generation, this quote applied virtually every year to the U of A and ASU leading up to their head-to-head game for the Territorial Cup. Invariably, one school was en route to a bowl game (“the best of times”) while the other was “waiting for next year” (“the worst of times”). As the game approached, it was well-accepted that a victory in the rivalry game would serve to salvage a losing season for the underperforming school. If fact, in 6 of the last 15 seasons, the team with the losing overall record spoiled the season of the team with a winning record by winning the “Duel In The Desert.”
Over the past 15 years, there was only one season in which BOTH the U of A and ASU finished with winning overall records. Interestingly enough, that was last year, when both programs finished with records of 8-5. This season, the U of A can finish with a record as high as 9-4 but no worse than 7-6. ASU can do no worse than 9-5 but have the very real potential of amassing 12 victories.
The U of A is coming off a program-defining victory against the number 5 overall-ranked team, the Oregon Ducks. Those who witnessed the plucking agree that the Wildcats played as a complete a game as any team in recent history. In fact, the national commentators for ABC opined that if the Wildcats played every game the way they played on Saturday, there would be no NCAA FBS team who could beat them. They proclaimed that BJ Denker and Ka’Deem Carey should share not only conference players of the week, but be declared national players of the week.
ASU traveled to the Rose Bowl to take on the resurgent UCLA Bruins. Coach Jim Mora has shown innovation and creativity, leading most to believe that ASU’s dream season would fall back to earth. Yet Taylor Kelly, Marion Grice and company played a near flawless first half, suggesting to the UCLA faithful that a Bruin hibernation was coming earlier than expected. In the second half, ASU appeared to be playing “not to lose” and nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory until an incredible last possession defensive stand claimed their stake to this dream season.
So here we go. The State’s best rivalry coming on the heels of an historic weekend and the rapidly growing success of both programs created in just two seasons under Coaches Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez. Graham has amassed a 17-7 record over these two seasons while Rich Rod is just behind, with a 15-9 record.
No matter who you favor on November 30, this season will be a tale of two cities in which it has been “the best of times” in both Tucson and Tempe.