ASU football needs to beat UA to keep bowl hopes alive

On the surface, it looks like tomorrow’s Arizona State vs. Arizona football match-up is little more than a game between two teams just trying to get through the remainder of a season gone wrong.

Both teams have lost three of their last four games.  The head coach for one of the teams (Arizona) has already been fired.  The other coach, Dennis Erickson, may be headed for the same fate if he can’t pull off this win in the annual rivalry game.

But under the surface, there is much more at stake for Arizona State.  Believe it or not, they are still in contention to earn a spot in the Rose Bowl.

(*Update:  Boy, did I get this one wrong.  Not only did ASU not win big, they left the Territorial Cup behind in Tucson, succumbing to the Wildcats in a 31-27 thriller that went right down to the last failed pass attempt by Brock Osweiler, who had the best passing game of his career with a 36-of-65 performance for 487 yards.  Nick Foles accumulated 370 yards in the air for the Cats before his replacement, Bryson Beirne, came in after the senior was shaken up on a play late in the fourth quarter; Beirne completed the only pass he threw, but turned it into a scoring strike to Juron Criner for the winning touchdown.)

USC is leading the South Division of the Pac-12, but the Trojans aren’t eligible this year for post-season play, thanks to NCAA sanctions.  That means the runner-up would play in the conference championship game and get a chance to represent the Pac-12 in Pasadena.

Right now, ASU is tied with UCLA in the runner-up spot, each with 4-3 marks.

For the 2-8 Wildcats, this would be a throw-away game at the end of a meaningless season.  In another few weeks, the program is likely to have a new head coach and we start all over again with a clean slate.

But, because it’s against arch-enemy ASU, there will be a lot of pride on the line – and bragging rights for another year.  Winning the Territorial Cup wouldn’t salvage an abysmal season for the Wildcats, but it would make the bitter pill a little easier to swallow.

This year, the rivalry game doesn’t close out the season for either team.  ASU (6-4) will welcome California (6-4) as their opponent for Senior Night in Tempe, while Arizona will host Louisiana-Lafayette for its finale.

A win tomorrow night for the Cats would give them momentum going into the final game and maybe allow the team to go out on a winning note.

The final two games also give senior quarterback Nick Foles a chance to increase the chances that the passing record he has set this year will last for some time to come.  Foles threw for 352 yards in last week’s 48-29 loss to Colorado, which gave him 9,289 career yards, enough to become the all-time leading passer in Arizona history.

But the Sun Devils need to win these last couple of games even more.  They need to win both games, combined with a UCLA loss to either Colorado or USC, to scratch their way into the championship game.

If the Wildcats are going to beat the Sun Devils tomorrow night, they will have to ride the arm of Foles.  They are the No. 4 team in the country in that category, averaging 368 passing yards a game.

But their defense has to step up even bigger.  The Cats are giving up 180 yards a game.  Last week against Colorado, Rodney Stewart carried the ball 24 times and ran up 181 yards all by himself.

Last year, ASU won by one point in double overtime.

It won’t be that close this time.  ASU 41-24.