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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Even with bowl game sealed, ‘Duel in the Desert’ still packs punch”

    ASU tail back Dimitri Nance stiff arms UA corner back Wilrey Fontenot during a 20-17 ASU win at Sun Devil Stadium last year in Tempe, Ariz. Unlike the last two seasons, the Wildcats arent playing ASU to become bowl eligible this season.
    ASU tail back Dimitri Nance stiff arms UA corner back Wilrey Fontenot during a 20-17 ASU win at Sun Devil Stadium last year in Tempe, Ariz. Unlike the last two seasons, the Wildcats aren’t playing ASU to become bowl eligible this season.

    Bobby’s World

    A large rectangular sign sits against the north side of the west fence of the Jimenez Practice Facility on the UA campus.

    Written in 12 distinct rows are the Arizona football team’s opponent teams and the date of each contest. While all Pacific 10 opponents are written in color, only one has a highlighted background.

    This team is, of course, the Wildcats’ final opponent and heated rival: ASU.

    Many players agreed Tuesday evening that the practices already felt different, even with the Thanksgiving holiday and a bye week standing between Arizona and ASU.

    “”Practices are harder, they’re faster,”” said running back Nic Grigsby. “”Everyone is looking forward to that game.””

    While the annual Duel in the Desert will continue the tradition of intense, passionate football it has provided since its inception in 1899, something will be missing in this year’s edition, which was often a focal point during the Wildcats’ nine-season bowl drought.

    For the first time in three seasons, the outcome of Saturday’s battle royale will not decide the fate of Arizona’s postseason chances.

    In each of the last two seasons, the Wildcats have been on the verge of qualifying for a bowl game with six wins in 2006 and five in 2007 heading into their bout with ASU. Each year, Arizona stumbled, and as a result, the Wildcats again spent December away from the football field.

    Back at the turn of the century, the Wildcats went through a similar pair of seasons as Arizona went into the rivalry game with six and five wins in 1999 and 2000, respectively, before dropping the season finale each year, leaving the team without of a bowl bid.

    During the remaining seasons between the Wildcats’ Holiday Bowl appearance in 1998 against Nebraska and the 2008 season, Arizona competed against ASU with no more riding on it than whatever pride was left in a team that failed to win more than four games in one season over a four-year stretch.

    This year, however, no postseason spot rides on the Duel, but for quite an unfamiliar reason.

    “”I don’t think (not having a bowl game riding on the game) changes it at all,”” said defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”It’s always important no matter what the situation is.

    “”It’s important to (the players),”” Stoops added. “”We’ve always been ready to play this game, so hopefully we can go out there and play the best we can.””

    Arizona will certainly need to play its best football, even against the 5-6 Sun Devils, as the Wildcats have not played well against the maroon and gold in recent seasons.

    Since Arizona’s last bowl game, the Wildcats have won only twice against their neighbors to the north while suffering three of their seven losses at home.

    Other than the pride of simply putting an end to a three-year losing streak to ASU, Arizona could also improve upon its bowl destination with a win Saturday night. While this may seem like a selfish case of “”beggars can’t be choosers,”” a better bowl means more money and notoriety for the program – something the Wildcats have lacked throughout the past decade.

    What’s more is many believe head coach Mike Stoops’ job – which was put on the line at the start of the season – could still be up in the air despite helping Arizona escape the black hole which was the Wildcats’ postseason life. And with offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes’ name being thrown around for various positions at both Texas Tech and New Mexico, Stoops’ existence in Tucson could prove vital for the Wildcats’ future.

    Lastly, a win against ASU this weekend could also have a strong impact on a few Arizona recruits, including three-star defensive tackle William Sutton who told GOAZCATS.com last weekend he will likely narrow his college choices to either Arizona or ASU.

    Like any good game between long-standing rivals, this year’s Duel in the Desert has plenty stories hidden within, and although both teams will be going bowling following the contest, the game’s long-term effects could be interesting.

    But even with the implications, the side stories and all of the riff-raff, for the players the motivation is pretty simple: It’s a rivalry game.

    “”I look to beat (ASU) first, not for a bowl game or anything like that,”” Grigsby said. “”It’s just personal between us.””


    – Bobby Stover is a materials sciences and engineering junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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