Wait…what?! Territorial Cup game to OPEN football season

This won’t be the first time that the Arizona State and University of Arizona football teams have met in a season opener.

However, you have to go back more than 80 years to find the last time it happened.

The Pac-12 Conference just put out the revised schedule for the 2020 season as the conference continues to try to adapt to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.  And the Sun Devils are scheduled to meet the Wildcats on Sept. 26.

This will be just the fifth time the two rivals have opened a season against each other; the Territorial Cup game, which is recognized as the nation’s oldest rivalry trophy game, is normally put at the end of the season schedule.  The other four openers were played during the years between 1915 and 1937.

Arizona owns the advantage over the entirety of the Territorial Cup series, 40-29-1.  But most of those wins go back to the early years of the rivalry.  Since 1949, the Sun Devils have a 40-29-1 edge and have won seven of the last 10 meetings.

Last year’s 24-14 ASU victory in Tempe, thanks in large part to a 168-yard rushing performance by Eno Benjamin, marked just the third time in the history of the rivalry that either team has been able to notch three in a row.  His 168 yards were the most in a Territorial Cup game since 1973 when Woody Green ran for 192.

But Benjamin, the game’s MVP, left school a year early and will be playing this season for the Arizona Cardinals.

The game this year will be in Tucson, where the Wildcats’ head coach, Kevin Sumlin, is in desperate need of a strong start to the season.  The third-year coach is on the hot seat following a couple of losing seasons.  The 2019 season ended with seven straight losses and just two conference victories overall to finish in last place in the Pac-12 South.

Herm Edwards is also going into his third year as ASU’s head coach, but has been productive enough to earn a two-year contract extension last January.  The former NFL player and coach has posted records of 7-6 and 8-5, beat rival Arizona both years, and closed out last season with a bowl win.

According to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, the rivalry game has been moved up this season  to provide some scheduling flexibility, since Arizona is one of the states that has seen a resurgence of the virus.

This will be the earliest date the two Pac-12 rivals have met on the football field.  There were a couple of other September games, in 1935 and 1946, but they were both played on the 28th.

The various schools that make up the Pac-12 were able to agree on several changes this season to help combat the spread of the virus.  The traditional non-conference games have been eliminated and an extra conference game has been added to the revised schedule, providing 10 conference match-ups for each school and a Pac-12 title game on Dec. 29, two weeks later than usual.

The decision on whether to allow spectators at the games is being left up to the schools.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)