Programs that thrive on being opposite couldn't be moreso this season. Truth is, ASU is a good, not great, two-loss team that has found a way to make plays that have helped to record Ws. Arizona is a poor team that hasn't been able to take advantage of opportunities. Here are six examples, in no particular order.
Sept. 11: After recording a less-than-stellar 21-3 victory over NAU, Arizona hosted a Utah team with all kinds of hype that had just come off a 41-21 pasting of Texas A&M. The UA held Utah to its lowest point output of the season, but actually aided the Ute cause by turning the ball over twice in its own territory. Utah scored on both short-field possessions and effectively put the game away.
Sept. 18: After a bizarre September rainstorm that led to an 88-minute lightning related delay, Arizona went toe-to-toe with Wisconsin and had an opportunity to pull off the major upset. But the UA's offense went from mistake-prone to conservative in the game's deciding drive. Nick Folk missed a 47-yard field goal attempt, and Wisconsin escaped Tucson with an undefeated streak that would last for nine games.
Sept 25: In a nutshell, the play of the year for Arizona. Washington State committed 12 penalties, turned the ball over six times and couldn't prevent the UA from gaining a critical first down in the game's waning moments. But instead of taking a knee, Arizona decided to run a play, and the inexplicable happened. Gilbert Harris fumbled. Washington State recovered and scored on the ensuing possession to deny the UA yet again.
The Wildcats were never the same.
Meanwhile, later that night in Tempe:
ASU put its undefeated record on the line against Oregon State. The game's turning point occurred in the first half when Emmanuel Franklin punched the ball loose from Beaver tight end Joe Newton at the half-yard line. Arizona State made the recovery in the end zone, and ultimately turned away OSU 28-14.
Oct. 23: Record-breaking quarterback Andrew Walter threw six touchdown passes, including the game-winner to cap a 17-point rally in the final 6:36 as ASU toppled UCLA 48-42. Seemingly down and out, the Sun Devil defense, brutal in a loss at USC and taking its lumps in this game, stiffened late to give the ASU offense an opportunity to mount the rally. Walter threw for 415 yards on the afternoon.
Nov. 6: A game after breaking John Elway's Pac-10 record for most career touchdown passes, Walter pulled off a further homage to the conference's most highly-regarded signal caller. In Elway-esque fashion, the ASU senior marched his troops down the field in the game's final two minutes and found Matt Miller in the back of the end zone with nine seconds remaining in Arizona State's 34-31 win over Stanford.
As disparate as the records are, there isn't much that separates 8-2 from 2-8 other than the ability to make key plays. ASU has done that, and it will be rewarded with a nice bowl game.
A six-game difference.
Six key sequences.
Six years for Arizona without a bowl appearance.
666: that's a mighty fitting number for the Devils.