“The most important game of the year.”
It took Arizona State head football coach Todd Graham less than 45 seconds at his weekly Monday press conference to use those words when describing the Sun Devils’ game against rival University of Arizona on Friday.
A Rose Bowl or BCS appearance isn’t on the line, but this year’s game takes on a different meaning.
You have two schools in Arizona State and Arizona that are in almost identical situations. The teams’ previous regimes — with Dennis Erickson and Mike Stoops — were disappointing, both peaking with Holiday Bowl bids when more was expected.
It’s the beginning of a new era for Graham at ASU and Rich Rodriguez at the University of Arizona. Both teams are 4-4 in Pac-12 play and the Wildcats have seven wins overall to the Sun Devils’ six.
Friday night brings an opportunity for both coaches to set a tone for their program going forward.
This rivalry game wasn’t something from which Graham shied away. He made it clear he knew and understood the importance of winning this game.
“You can be 11-0 and if you don’t win this game you had an unsuccessful season,” Graham stated. “This is what college football is all about, rivalry games, and none that have more passion than this one.”
In these parts, that is all understood. Games between UA and ASU will always be meaningful no matter what the records are. The question is, will this game be the start of the Territorial Cup taking on a bigger presence nationally? Will Graham and Rich Rod live up to their words and their respective schools become relevant on a bigger stage?
Friday night will either be the start of something special or another beginning to the end of failed promises and expectations.