Arizona football: The week you've been waiting for

Arizona football: The week you've been waiting for
Anthony Gimino
Anthony Gimino

By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez gives his team 24 hours to celebrate a win or mourn a loss. He said after the Wildcats beat Utah that he would have to cut that time period to 12 hours.

How about 12 minutes?

Certainly, by the time the Wildcats touched down in Tucson at 8 p.m. Saturday, after posting arguably their most complete game of the season in a 42-10 thumping of Utah in rainy Salt Lake City, all their thoughts had to be on this Friday, this regular-season finale, this Territorial Cup against Arizona State.

This is the game they - and you - have been waiting for, because this might be the season that they - and you - have been waiting for ever since pledging allegiance to the cardinal and navy.

For the first time since Arizona joined the Pac-10 in 1978, the Wildcats head into their final game of the regular season with a chance to win the conference title.

Heading into last Saturday, UA needed four things to happen to finish first in the Pac-12 South: 1. Beat Utah (check). 2. Have UCLA beat USC (check).

Step 3: Beat Arizona State. Step 4: Have Stanford win at UCLA.

It's all going to happen at once. Both games kick off at 1:30 p.m. Tucson time on Friday.

If the Bruins win - and they are playing their best ball of the season, winners of five in a row - then they advance to the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon in the 49ers' new shiny Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, on Dec. 5.

If the Cardinal wins - and it has a six-game winning streak over UCLA, even if this season has been a disappointment - then the Arizona-Arizona State winner plays in the title game.

How's that for Territorial Cup stakes?

Each team is 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-12. Arizona is ranked 12th in the AP poll. ASU is 13th.

This is the first time they've met as ranked teams since 1986 - when Arizona's Chuck Cecil returned an interception 106 yards for a touchdown, arguably the greatest play in school history.

This is the first time they've met with at least nine wins each since 1975 - when Arizona State's John Jefferson went horizontal to make "The Catch" in the end zone, arguably the greatest play in school history.

What memories await Friday?

That either team is in this spot is a surprise. Arizona State won the Pac-12 South last season but had to replace nine defensive starters. Arizona lost All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey and had to replace its quarterback off a team that finished with four conference wins.

Often, you don't see the great seasons coming.

You get a Hail Mary to beat Cal, take the ball away late in the game from the best quarterback in America (Oregon's Marcus Mariota), kick a last-play 47-yard field goal to edge Washington, win a total of five games by a touchdown or less ...

You get a redshirt freshman quarterback (Anu Solomon) playing beyond his years, a rookie running back (Nick Wilson) becoming the first freshman in school history to rush for 1,000 yards, a linebacker (Scooby Wright) turning into an All-American as a sophomore ...

You get a former local walk-on (safety Jared Tevis) playing at an all-conference level, a ball-hawking senior (Tra'Mayne Bondurant) having a hand in seven turnovers in eight conference games after beginning camp in the coaches' doghouse, a 247-pound nose guard (Parker Zellers) starting half the games ...

You get Arizona, 2014.

"We aren't the most impressive getting off the bus," Rodriguez said after beating Utah, "but getting on the bus after the games they have been a little more impressive."

Rodriguez is 0-2 against ASU, so just picking up his first victory in the Territorial Cup is paramount. Whatever happens in Pasadena on Friday, well, the Cats and Devils can't control that. At worst, though, the winner in Tucson, even if shut out of the conference championship game, would be in position for a potential invitation to the Fiesta Bowl.

As Rodriguez said, quoting movie history, after Casey Skowron's kick beat Washington on Nov. 15, "Are you not entertained?"

Friday tells the tale.

Can't get here soon enough.

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.

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