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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘We have to beat ASU’

    Arizona and ASU football players get tangled up during last years 28-14 Sun Devil victory at Arizona Stadium. The rivals will play for the Territorial Cup tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium in a game with much on the line for both teams.
    Arizona and ASU football players get tangled up during last year’s 28-14 Sun Devil victory at Arizona Stadium. The rivals will play for the Territorial Cup tomorrow at 6 p.m. at Sun Devil Stadium in a game with much on the line for both teams.

    Arizona head coach Mike Stoops doesn’t like to hype up any particular game, but he will be the first to person say that tomorrow’s 81st “”Duel in the Desert”” has a lot at stake.

    There’s so much at stake, in fact, that for the Wildcats it is the most important game of the last decade. Sure, that’s been said nearly every week, but this matchup with No. 13 ASU tomorrow night at 6 in Tempe will make or break the season.

    It will more than likely decide whether Arizona (5-6, 4-4 Pacific 10 Conference) is worthy of a bowl game.

    Last season, the Wildcats were already bowl-eligible by the time the Territorial Cup game came around. The team still could have received a bowl bid, but the bowl committees simply didn’t think the Wildcats were worthy after they lost handily at home to the Sun Devils, 28-14.

    This season, it’s been made clear that a win over ASU (9-2, 6-2) would almost certainly place them in either the Las Vegas Bowl, Armed Forces Bowl or Emerald Bowl, as the bowl committees have publicly said they would welcome the team that hasn’t made a bowl game since 1998, when it went to the Holiday Bowl with a 12-1 record.

    “”When there is so much on the line, I think it adds to the rivalry,”” Stoops said. “”As both teams get better, you would hope it becomes a stronger and stronger rivalry because there’s so much at stake. … It’s good for the people of Arizona.””

    Stoops said this season is different than his previous three. After the first eight games, the Wildcats were 2-6. The speculation was that Stoops was on his way out of town.

    Then, as if the team had an epiphany, it won three straight, now putting it in position to pull off what no one believed could be done just over a month ago.

    “”It’s a good position for us to be in after getting off to such a tough start at the beginning of the season,”” Stoops said.

    “”We’re playing much better as a team, and that’s really the difference. Really, our resurgence over the second half of the season is because we are a much better team than at any time we’ve been here.””

    As different as the team may be, a tall task awaits in the Sun Devils. The Wildcats have momentum and health in their favor, but ASU has the opportunity to slip through the back door to the Rose Bowl with a win.

    Despite its ranking, ASU isn’t regarded as a very talented team. Some analysts even say Arizona is the more talented group.

    But the Wildcats know tomorrow is not about talent, being complete or being the best team of the last four years. It’s about beating ASU and advancing to the next step.

    Moreover, that the game is being played against the hated Sun Devils creates the hype of a high-stakes poker match.

    The trash talk started long before the season even started. ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who has been known to make some callous comments on and off the field, told a Phoenix radio station over the summer that, “”I might not have a lot of TD passes through the year, but I’ll probably have at least five or six against U of A.””

    For cornerback Antoine Cason, who leads the team with five touchdowns, it was just fuel added to the fire. Cason has beaten ASU only once in his career – as a freshman in 2004 in Tucson – and said he understood the rivalry as soon as he stepped on the field.

    “”It’s going to be an intense game,”” he said. “”It’s a heated rivalry. We just have to go into it with the right mindset. This is what everyone talks about.

    “”We have to beat ASU to make it to a bowl game.””

    Cason is a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which honors the best defensive back in the NCAA. With a big game tomorrow, Cason can set himself apart on national television.

    It will also be a telling game for Stoops. He’s been criticized for his team’s tight play in important games, with the Wildcats sometimes playing as if they have something to lose.

    “”Getting over the hump is important for us,”” said Stoops, whose team also entered last year’s ASU game on a three-game winning streak. “”We’ve been close so many times. I feel we are getting over the hump, but we just haven’t been able to get quite there.””

    Linebacker Spencer Larsen admitted the team played differently in last year’s season finale: “”We felt a lot more pressure.””

    “”We went in with the expectation like the beginning of this season and played tight,”” Larsen said. “”We kind of complicated the game plan a little bit.””

    Larsen is the team’s resident veteran, having joined the team in 2002.

    With a win tomorrow, he would “”leave college football with a very sweet taste in my mouth.””

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