Anticipation high for Territorial Cup game

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- The Territorial Cup is the oldest rivalry trophy in college football, first handed out in 1899.

The 88th meeting between No. 13 Arizona State and No. 11 Arizona might be the most significant in series history.

Both teams come in ranked for the first time since 1986. A shot at the Pac-12 South division title and a 10-win season are on the line and, oh yeah, bragging rights.

This should be good.

"The rivalry game is always most important when you see it with no records," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Now that we both have had pretty good years and have even more at stake, this makes it of added importance. I think it has become more relevant nationally now because of the seasons we're both having."

Both teams were in the College Football Playoff conversation a month ago and are still in position to play in a premium bowl at 9-2 overall. The Sun Devils and Wildcats are each 6-2 in the Pac-12, and the winner Friday would play in the conference championship game if Stanford beats No. 9 UCLA.

That game will be going on at the same time, but Rodriguez doesn't want the score shown inside Arizona Stadium.

The only focus will be two rivals going head-to-head on the field, the stakes and pressure raised to unprecedented levels.

"This game is the single most important game of the year for us and for our fans," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "Obviously, it has a lot more meaning."

The Wildcats may feel like they have a score to settle. Arizona State has won the two meetings since Graham and Rodriguez took over as coaches, both in debilitating fashion - in one way or another.

In 2012, the Sun Devils scored 24 points in the fourth quarter to rally for a 41-34 win in Tucson. Arizona State topped that last season, routing Arizona 58-21 in Tempe.

With 19 seniors playing their final home game, the Wildcats really want this one.

"You know that for your fans, particularly in state, that the rivalry game is going to mean a lot to them, but I promise it doesn't mean any more to them than it does to the players and coaches," Rodriguez said.

A few more things to look for when the Sun Devils and Wildcats meet:

CLOSE GAMES: Outside of last year's rout, the Duel in the Desert has been filled with close games in recent years. Seven of the past 10 have been decided by a touchdown or less, including 2010, in which Arizona State blocked an extra point at the end of regulation and again in the second overtime to win 30-29.

HAIL MARYS: Arizona and Arizona State will enter their rivalry game with a similar-but-rare play under their belts: the Hail Mary. Arizona had the first one, beating California 49-45 on Sept. 20 when Austin Hill hauled in a 47-yard heave on the final snap, a play that was immediately dubbed the "Hill Mary." The Sun Devils pulled theirs off two weeks later against USC, when Jaelen Strong strolled into the end zone untouched for a 36-yard touchdown that gave ASU a 38-34 win. Could another one be in store?

EXPECT OFFENSE: Arizona and Arizona State have had two of the nation's top offenses since Rodriguez and Graham took over as coaches. This season is no different. The Sun Devils are 17th nationally with 37.2 points and 31st with 472.7 yards per game. Arizona is 21st in scoring with 36.2 points and 14th in total offense at 494.7 yards.

WATCH THE QBS: Arizona State's Taylor Kelly had an up-and-down return after missing three games with a foot injury, leading to calls for Mike Bercovici to become the starter. Graham stuck with Kelly and the fifth-year senior delivered, throwing for four touchdowns in a rout over Washington State in his final home game. Anu Solomon has had a dynamic first season as Arizona's starter, becoming the first freshman in school history to throw for 3,000 yards in a season. But Solomon hurt his ankle against Utah last week and was listed as questionable for Friday's game.

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Arizona St-Arizona-Preview Capsule

No. 13 Arizona State (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12, CFP No. 13) at No. 12 Arizona (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12, CFP No. 11), 3:30 p.m. EST (Fox)

Line: No line

Series Record: Arizona leads 47-39-1

WHAT'S AT STAKE

The annual battle for the Territorial Cup is one of the most anticipated in the 88-game history of this desert rivalry. Both teams are still in the hunt for the Pac-12 South Division title - they need Stanford to beat UCLA - and both are ranked headed into the game for the first time since 1986. Always a wild game, this one should be extra intense.

KEY MATCHUP

Arizona's defense vs. Arizona State's offense. The Wildcats have shown they can score under coach Rich Rodriguez, but stopping the Sun Devils will be the key to winning this game. The Sun Devils scored 24 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Wildcats two years ago and ran all over them in a rout last season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Arizona State: QB Taylor Kelly. The senior missed three games with a broken foot and struggled at times after his return, leading to calls for him to be replaced by Mike Bercovici, who played well while he was out. Coach Todd Graham stuck by Kelly and he responded last week by throwing for four touchdowns in his final home game.

Arizona: RB Nick Wilson. He ran for 218 yards and three touchdowns on a soggy night in Utah last week and is the first freshman in school history - fourth in the Pac-12 - the rush for over 1,000 yards (1,085) in a season. QB Anu Solomon (ankle) is listed as questionable.

FACTS & FIGURES

The Territorial Cup is the oldest rivalry trophy in college football, first presented in 1899. ... Arizona State is facing its sixth ranked opponent of the season, matching the school record for one season, set in 1986 and 1995. ... Arizona State has won the two meetings since Graham and Rodriguez took over as coaches, including a 58-21 thumping in Tempe last season. ... Arizona has won at least eight games in three straight seasons for the first time since 1973-75.

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