ASU football seeks Territorial Cup redemption in bid to spoil UArizona’s Pac-12 title pursuit

Saturday’s high-stakes showdown between ASU and UArizona unfolds in the 97th Territorial Cup, which promises a defining moment for both programs. (File photo by Austin Ford/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – As the 97th Territorial Cup looms, Valley football fans from both sides of the aisle eagerly await Saturday’s duel in the desert. Beyond the riveting rivalry, the game between Arizona State and the University of Arizona holds substantial implications for the Pac-12 Championship.

The 2023 Territorial Cup signifies the culmination of a challenging season for ASU and first-year coach Kenny Dillingham. The Sun Devils, with a disappointing 3-8 record, find themselves in an unfamiliar position, striving to salvage pride and make a resounding statement to end a year marked by adversity.

Dillingham faces the daunting task of rallying his team against the “school down south” that he never mentioned by name during his 30-minute press conference Monday. However, Dillingham’s understanding of the sheer intensity of the in-state rivalry fuels his emphasis on preparation and passion, aiming to channel his team’s energy into a focused execution on the field.

“I told our guys there’s two seasons when you play at ASU, there’s the first 11 games and that’s one season. Then there’s the ‘Team Down South’ week, and that’s entirely another season,” Dillingham said Monday at his weekly press conference. “You only play 11 regular-season games and then you play one other entire season, it takes seven days to play it.

Mascots “Sparky,” right, and “Wilbur” square off on the sidelines of Mountain America Stadium for the 97th Territorial Cup. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“(The in-state rivalry is) something that I knew (about) and unless you’ve been in it, unless you’ve been a part of it or unless you’re from here and know, what you don’t understand is how intense the rivalry really is.”

The disappointment of a challenging season might serve as a catalyst for the Sun Devils and propel them to leave a lasting mark to end this storied rivalry’s days in the Pac-12 conference. Despite the odds stacked against them, the Sun Devils’ passion, determination and spirit of fighting for pride alone can be a powerful driving force at Mountain America Stadium.

“You’re going to play with a passion,” Dillingham said. “If you don’t come out there ready to practice this week more than other weeks, oh man, I’m sorry for you.

“There’s not going to be a rah-rah speech. There’s not going to be a need for me to get up there trying to motivate. This is going to be us keeping our focus, us being fresh and ready to play a football game in Week 12. … It’s about going to execute at a high level and play with the passion.”

On the other spectrum, the University of Arizona approaches the Territorial Cup with a sense of resurgence and possibility. Boasting an 8-3 record, the Wildcats find themselves in a position to not only keep bragging rights from last year, but also contend for the Pac-12 Championship with an Oregon State victory over Oregon on Friday.

“I have no concern that no matter what happens on Friday night between the two Oregon schools that our play will be any different at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday,” UArizona coach Jedd Fisch said during his Monday press conference.

Fisch emphasized discipline and composure as crucial elements for success, aiming to avoid the mistakes and emotional outbursts that marred last year’s contest.

“Rivalry games are fantastic, great, and they are motivational,” Fisch said. “But you still need to be disciplined and you can’t be playing in a manner that you are not understanding the game of football first and foremost.”

With a Pac-12 Championship berth and bowl game implications on the line, there is a lot to motivate the Wildcats, turning Rivalry Week into a pivotal moment in the program’s history. Despite the stakes, the rivalry still fuels the fire.

Fisch told the media Monday, “I just showed them a billboard,” when referring to what he showed newcomers on the team to motivate them. This is referencing the multiple mocking billboards that appeared on I-10 between Tempe and Tucson following previous defeats, including ASU’s 70-7 win to close the 2020 season.

The Wildcats enter the contest as favorites – a rarity in recent years. UArizona is favored to win for the first time since 2017 and has not been a double-digit favorite since 2008. Currently, DraftKings Sportsbook has UArizona favored to win by 10.

“There’s no overconfidence with this team … there’s not a lot of people out there that talk about our program …” Fisch said. “And we like it that way. So, we’re going to continue to live in that world.”

The latest edition of the Territorial Cup isn’t just about a traditional rivalry; it’s about affirming growth for the UArizona football program that has overcome repeated adversity this season. The anticipation is high, the stakes are significant and the Wildcats are poised to make a statement in this legendary rivalry.

The timing of the Territorial Cup couldn’t get any better. With kickoff set for 1:30 p.m. on ESPN, the entire nation can tune in to witness the battle for the oldest trophy in college football. The spotlight will shine on this iconic rivalry amplified by the significance of each play, touchdown and every passionate moment that will define the season of each program.

“We got Sunday to have the day off and after that, on Monday we didn’t talk anything about Oregon, it was all straight to U of A.” ASU senior tight end Jalin Conyers said after practice Tuesday. “We are at a one-game season at this point, if we can finish out the season 1-0 against a team that everybody in this area hates.

“It’s exciting to go out here and get a win for them and obviously both the fans and seniors deserve it. Coach Dillingham and all the staff deserve it and it’s our job to go out there, execute, and win.”

Bennett Silvyn BEH-nit SIL-vin
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Bennett Silvyn expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business, marketing and sports management. Silvyn has interned in marketing and social media for the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, as a reporter for Arizona Foothills Magazine, in sponsorships for the Arizona Rattlers and in social and digital media for FC Tucson. Silvyn has also reported for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and The State Press.