Is UA football over-rated…or ASU under-valued?

Won-loss records can be deceiving.  Take those of Arizona and Arizona State, for example.

ASU might just be the best 4-4 team in the Pac-10, maybe even in the country.  On the other hand, UofA might be one of the most over-rated 7-3, nationally-ranked teams.  The closest thing this season to a ‘signature win’ for Arizona would be the 34-27 win over Iowa, which is 7-3 and ranked fourth in the Big Ten, in the third game of the season.

Both lost over the weekend to put even more pressure on winning out.

The Sun Devils…have outscored their opponents by nearly 100 points this season, with four of their six loses by four points or less.

And four of those losses were at the hands of teams currently ranked in the top 10 in the nation: No. 1 Oregon, No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Wisconsin, and No. 20 USC.  The Devils lost by one point each to Wisconsin and USC, by four to Stanford, and by 11 to the Ducks.

Junior quarterback Steven Threet completed 33 passes against Oregon and the offense racked up almost 600 yards of total offense.  Against No. 1 Oregon!

And Saturday’s 17-13 loss to Stanford was a good example of the frustration this team is going through.  ASU was up 13-10 with six minutes left to play, when a series of penalty flags gave the Cardinal new life in the final drive and enabled them to score the winning touchdown.

The Devils held the sixth-best team in the country, which is averaging 42 points a game, to just 17 points.  It was Stanford’s lowest point total all season.

And they still lost.  In the record books, it’s just another “L”.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats…got off to a great start, winning their first four games.  But a stumble against California in Game 5 gave the faithful cause for pause, as the Cats pulled out a shaky 10-9 win in the final minutes to get past a .500 team.

They seemed to get back on track against the Washington schools and UCLA, winning three in a row.  But they’re stumbling down the stretch, with a three-touchdown loss to Stanford and again Saturday when USC took a 14-0 lead, thanks to an early UofA turnover and a missed field goal, and never looked back enroute to a 24-21 win in Tucson.

Nick Foles threw for 353 yards of the team’s total 404.  But the Cats couldn’t rely on their ground game to help in the effort.  They ran up just 51 yards on 18 carries.

On the other side of the ball, the Cats’ defense had trouble containing the redshirt junior tailback, Marc Tyler, who enjoyed a career-high rushing performance of 160 yards.

And the Trojans were pretty stingy with the ball throughout the night, holding onto it for close to 15 minutes longer than the Cats, giving Arizona about 22 minutes to get their scoring in.

But it was 7 1/2 minutes late in the game that put the final nail in the Cats’ coffin.  The Trojans marched down the field on a 12-play drive that didn’t give the ball up to the Cats until there was just over two minutes left to play.

USC also used a 17-play drive just before the half to eat up nine more minutes and score the go-ahead touchdown to make it 21-7 and force Arizona to play catch-up.  Unfortunately, they didn’t.

The back-to-back losses have dropped the Cats to No. 22 in the BCS rankings.

Arizona is bowl eligible, but it’s hard to tell what kind of bowl might extend an invitation.  The major bowls are starting to fade from view.

However, a win against No. 1 Oregon in two weeks might re-kindle an interest in the Cats

So Arizona is faced with top-ranked Oregon in Eugene, after a bye week, and then closing out the final game against Arizona State for the Territorial Cup.  If they were to win out, a 9-3 team with a national ranking might get them into a bowl game of some significance.

Arizona State, on the other hand, would have to win out against UCLA and Arizona to have even a whisper of a chance at a bowl.  They would have their six wins to be bowl eligible, but two of them were against FCS teams, so they should need seven wins to compensate.  However, the Pac-10 may not have enough teams eligible for post-season – in which case, ASU at 6-6 might get a waiver.

That last game will be in Tucson, which doesn’t help the ASU cause.

But it could be the story of two teams on very different paths, as Arizona could come in reeling from three straight losses and Arizona State shows up in Tucson with a bowl invite still possible.

This year’s Duel in the Desert is shaping up into a classic.  Buckle up, sports fans!

(Photo: ASU Athletics)