Business as Usual or Turnning the Tide?

More than any sport on the planet, college football tends to make a living out of exemplifying the "expect the unexpected" cliché.

For Arizona State fans, that truism basically sums up most of the 2008 season, as little thus far has gone according to preseason plans. Further down the I-10, Arizona fans are savoring unusual success on the gridiron this season and enter this year's edition of the battle for the Territorial Cup as confident as it has been for the past decade.

As the two teams prepare to clash for state supremacy, Wildcat football fans enamor the notion that 2008 has sprung an in-state paradigm shift; thinking that UA has become ASU's peer, or even superior, on the gridiron.

With equal conference records and a one-game overall difference in record, this theory is debatable to say the least; however the Devils certainly enter Saturday's match-up generally expected not to do as they have the past three -- and past seven of nine -- seasons as the king of college football in Arizona.

Perhaps a strange perspective on this year's events is the illustration of the differences among the expectations in Tempe compared to Tucson. Both teams may finish with the same records and postseason outcomes; however it will be considered a letdown by ASU critics, while coaches and media claim UA football has "turned the corner".

A short corner that must be, or at the very least claims of a Wildcat emergence to glory are definitely premature, as UA has yet to exceed its best record (6-6 in 2006) of the Mike Stoops tenure as head coach in Tucson. A bowl game appearance will likely be awarded to the Wildcats win or lose against ASU; however if that is all that is required to appease the UA masses, then there simply will never be a parallel between the Sun Devils and the Wildcats.

In addition to national notoriety and consistent postseason appearances, ASU fans invariably expect victory over Arizona, as does the entire Sun Devil football roster; no current player or coach has participated in a losing effort against the Wildcats while at ASU.

The 2008 season has definitely been a trying one for the Maroon and Gold faithful; the growing pains of the infusion of young contributors among other struggles have dramatically affected the perception and expectations for the Sun Devils this year.

Since throttling UA in Tucson 56-14 to conclude ASU's perfect regular season in 1996, ASU has rarely played the underdog role when matched up with the Wildcats. The events of this season has shifted a measure of control down south, as a UA victory would not only ship the Territorial Cup to Tucson but hold ASU out of postseason contention for the first time since 2003.

After having suffered a tremendous losing skid during the months of September and October, when we rewind a month, the circumstances that have surfaced create the best case scenario for the Sun Devils.

On November 1, after a 27-25 Sun Devil loss in Corvallis to Oregon State -- capping off a school record six-game losing streak -- ASU stared the mortality of the 2008 directly in the eyes; each game became a must-win for the Devils to preserve hopes to make a school record fifth straight bowl appearance.

At that same time, Arizona was enjoying a greater level of success -- largely aided by a lenient early schedule -- and entered November one game shy of bowl eligibility.

For ASU to keep postseason aspirations alive -- as well as to maintain universal order by finishing the season ahead of Arizona in the Pac-10 rankings -- from that point forward, ASU had to exit the season unscathed and the Wildcats could win no more than one additional regular season contest.

A road victory at Washington and defense-oriented victories at home versus Washington State and UCLA allowed ASU to approach the gates to the postseason, while after a victory over the Cougars, Arizona was swept by the Oregon schools, earning ASU the opportunity to slide into the postseason and leapfrog Arizona in the Pac-10 ranks if a Sun Devil victory is gained in the year's final contest.

Although a week after the formerly traditional day after Thanksgiving annual match-up, the table has been set for one of the most compelling clashes this rivalry has seen over the past decade.

Despite the trials and tribulations the Sun Devils and their following have enduring this season, Saturday provides the one-time opportunity for the Sun Devil senior class -- guided by quarterback Rudy Carpenter -- to depart with a perfect rivalry record and reinforce the in-state standard of dominance on and off the field

The comparisons, opinions, statistics and bulletin board quotes have blasted through the Arizona media; talk about legacies, streaks and statement performances are flooded through the newspapers, talk radio shows, websites and sportscasts. Old alumni and past coaches have come out of the woodworks to give their reflections on the wins, the losses, the pageantry and the sprit of the rivalry.

Our collective pride has taken more than a few sucker punches this season, but it's time to fight back and reignite that sense of pride in the season's most important game.

For now -- for us -- it's not about X's and O' s, it's about pride. Pride in what we collectively represent and pride in maintaining ownership of the nation's oldest college football rivalry trophy.

It's about driving to Tucson with ASU flags waving and walking in and out of Arizona Stadium clad in Sun Devil gold, regardless the outcome. It's about showing UA just what "Give ‘em Hell!" is all about.

So rally the troops, don head to toe Sun Devil regalia and cheer, cheer for ASU; fight for the old maroon and gold.

For it's hail, hail the gang's all here, and it's onward to victory!

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