Despite a disappointing three-game losing streak, Todd Graham's Arizona State Sun Devils are still in the thick of the topsy-turvy Pac-12 South championship race with three games to play.
But Saturday's game at USC will thin the herd of contenders even more. A loss for either team would be their fourth conference defeat and would effectively eliminate them from the division race.
On Thursday, Graham acknowledged that a win over the 19th-ranked Trojans would be huge for a lot of reasons.
"Obviously, this is one of those wins we need right now for this program -- a signature win," Graham said. "We have a great plan, we've talked about the mental aspect of it and making sure we don't have mental mistakes because that's the thing that hurt us last week."
Last week's loss at Oregon State was a missed opportunity for the Sun Devils to collect a "signature win". Arizona State hung with the 11th-ranked Beavers in the first half, but was outplayed in the second half in a 36-26 loss.
The last time ASU beat a ranked opponent on the road was all the way back in 2002, when they toppled then-6th-ranked Oregon 45-42. Since then, in road games against ranked foes, the Sun Devils have gone 0-16. The average margin of defeat has been 17.4 points.
Graham is happy with the way the Sun Devils have played this season, but acknowledges it's time to take the next step.
"We've won some ball games, and I think, made great progress and done some great things," he said. "For these guys to go and win this game when everybody else has pretty much counted us out and given up on us as far as having a chance to win the South, if you can and win that thing, it's immeasurable what it does for you."
Southern California has long been a staple in ASU's recruiting efforts, so a win over the Trojans in their backyard could do wonders for the future of the Sun Devil program.
"These are the kind of wins we have to have, that's why we're here," Graham said. "I think it's very critical."