Rivalry Game: Match-ups and Bragging Rights

<I>On Friday, the ASU Sun Devils travel down to the Old Pueblo to renew their rivalry with the Arizona Wildcats. There are two very discrete groups that have something at stake this week – the players and the fans. DevilsDigest.com breaks takes a look at the match-ups on the field and what is at stake for Sun Devil players and fans.</I>

Rivalry games always have a lot at stake, even in situations in which the teams are not playing for bowl invitations and/or national championships. Luckily for ASU, they are playing for a post-season game; however, something just as important is on the line this Friday: bragging rights for the next 364 days.


Honestly, there really isn't much analysis to be done here. ASU is 8-2 and the Wildcats are 2-8. There really isn't much more that can be said. Based on talent and this season's performances, ASU should win. Let's take a look at a couple players or positions that should be a big advantage for the Devils:

Quarterback: Andrew Walter is a fifth year senior, the Pac-10 all-time leader in touchdown passes, one of a handful of Pac-10 QBs to throw for 10,000 yards in their career, and a probably a first round NFL draft pick in the 2005 draft. Conversely, Arizona has had two of their top four QBs leave the team, the most experienced signal caller remaining on the team has struggled, and they have turned to a redshirt freshman to lead their offense. The Devils have a HUGE advantage at the most important position on the field.

Wide Receiver: Derek Hagan, Terry Richardson, Moey Mutz, and Matt Miller have all made big contributions this year. Hagan and Richardson are the main "go to" guys and are the teams' proverbial playmakers. Hagan was even a semi-finalist for the Biletnikoff award, which is given to the nation's best receiver. Conversely, even Arizona fans have started calling their group "Wide Droppers" because they haven't shown a propensity of hauling in passes. I don't think there is much more to say here.

Tight End: As a true freshman, Zach Miller is already one of the best TEs in the country, Lee Burghgraef is one of the best blocking TEs in the conference, and they are backed up by solid players in Brent Miller and Jamaal Lewis. Andrew Walter always knows he has a reliable safety valve he can drop the ball to in pressure situations. Conversely, the Wildcats have only one TE on the roster and I have no idea what his name is. Once again, there isn't much more to say here.

Defensive Line: Jimmy Verdon, Jordan Hill, Ishmael Thrower, and Kyle Caldwell have all been very pleasant surprises this season. They have successfully put pressure on the passer and have also occupied the offensive linemen in the running game, which has allowed the Devils' linebackers to run free and make plays. The play of the DL is the main reason for ASU's improved defense this season. On the other hand, Arizona is extremely thin and undersized at DL. Tragically, impact freshman Umeh died in pre-season workouts. UofA also lost some contributors via academic casualties. Finally, it appears that the Wildcats' DL keep their weight up during the season by inducing the munchies through puffing on the "sticky green" as much as possible at various on campus locations such as parking structures and park benches in front of Arizona Stadium. While they have successfully hit their target weights, suspensions have precipitated from this useful, yet illegal practice. Even though Stoops has reinstated one of the teams' resident NORMAL members ("Legalize it, man!"), the Devils' productivity and experience wins out.

Linebackers: Dale Robinson, Justin Burks, and Jamar Williams were all nominated for post-season awards for their contributions this year. This group of players is another big reason for the Devils' defensive improvement from 2003. All three have had double-digit tackles in a game and each players knows their assignment and trusts their teammate to do what they are supposed to do. This trio has been the most productive defensive unit for the Devils. Conversely, the Cats' linebackers are in the midst of a tough season in which the defensive line cannot keep blockers from getting to the second level. They are not making the plays they need to in either the running or passing games. Productivity is the key to success and the Devils have it. The Cats don't.

There are other areas at which ASU holds an advantage, but the ones listed above are probably the areas in which there is the largest discrepancy.

There are really only two areas in which the Cats have the advantage: punt coverage and running back. The first has to do with the ineptness of ASU's punt coverage team more than the superiority of the Wildcat's coverage unit. The second can be chalked up to the depth issues ASU has at tailback. Hakim Hill is just as talented as anyone the Cats put in the backfield, but the Devils have a converted WR and LB backing him up.

So, it is obvious that the Devils have a big advantage looking at the match-ups. Unfortunately, advantages on the field do not always lead to victories. ASU will have to weather an early storm of emotion from the Cats and stay focused to pull out a victory in Tucson. If they can avoid early mistakes, they can wear down the Cats and pull away late.

Big Men On Campus

As this is a rivalry game, much more than just another win and a trip to a better bowl. For the players, it also means that they receive much praise and adulation from faculty, administrators, fans, and students. The flip side of the coin is having to answer the "What happened?" question an infinite amount of times and hearing the fans talk about how embarrassing it is to lose to their rival for a year.

Additionally, many players from both teams see each other in the off-season. It happens at senior games, the NFL combine, movie theaters, and shopping malls. The winning players can just give the knowing nod of a winner toward the loser, screaming out "SCOREBOARD!" with just a twinkle of the eye and a nod of the head. There really is no suitable response the losing player can give.

Finally, the seniors leave the program with a winning taste in their mouths. They know their last regular season game resulted in a victory over the hated Wildcats, an overall winning record against them, and three victories in a row (something that hasn't been done since the Frank Kush era). Of this, they can and should be very proud. A loss means that they were on the team that choked away a the chance at a ten win season and lost to one of the most woeful Wildcat teams in history. That isn't a positive thought when looking back at their career in the maroon and gold.

Generally, I believe the players want to win for reasons having to do with the team – bowl invitations, better record, etc. They derive the majority their satisfaction from the team's successes, which is how it should be. However, the extra personal benefits each Sun Devil player would receive add a little extra motivation during rivalry week.

The Fans and Bragging Rights

The fans have the least impact on the outcome of the game, but may be the most impacted by that result or at least feel the ramifications of the result for the longest time. A loss means a year of putting up with smack talk from the Cats. A win means being gaining bragging rights for the year and a positive end to the season.

With that in mind, I present my Top Ten Reasons ASU Fans Need the Devils to Win on Friday:

10. To sustain the potential of a ten win season and a top 15 finish.
9. To shut up that annoying co-worker that wears his UofA hoops shirt to the football games, cannot name more than five starters on the football team, and responds to every football discussion with basketball talk.
8. To win three in a row vs. the Cats for the first time since the Kush era.
7. To send the seniors out having lost no more than one game in the rivalry.
6. Because fans that wear their hoops t-shirts to football games do not deserve to win.
5. Because a national TV audience will be watching.
4. To be able to look back at Cat fans' predictions of a bowl game this year and laugh out loud.
3. To make our December weekends hosting recruits more successful by letting the recruits watch practices going on.
2. To help win our recruiting battles.
1. Because beating Wildcats is in every Sun Devils' blood!

Friday is going to be fun. I fully expect to drive up I-10 after the game having witnessed a great Sun Devil victory in Brown Town!

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