Bruins, Sun Devils building rivalry
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Taylor Kelly will not play against No. 11 UCLA. Arizona State acknowledged it more than a week before the game.
Beyond that, well, we'll have to wait and see; the 15th-ranked Sun Devils are keeping a lid on their injured quarterback's availability until after backup Mike Bercovici plays against the Bruins.
UCLA is taking a different tack with its quarterback's status.
Brett Hundley may play against Arizona State after injuring his left arm in UCLA's last game. Then again, he may not. The Bruins aren't saying.
Regardless of UCLA's Hundley rope-a-dope, the Sun Devils have a pretty good idea who'll be under center Thursday night at Sun Devil Stadium.
''No doubt in my mind, we're planning for their quarterback to play,'' Arizona State coach Todd Graham said Monday.
The hush-hush on Hundley has added a layer of intrigue to the first regular-season matchup between ranked opponents in Tempe since 2007.
Not that it needed any.
Arizona State still sees Arizona as its top rival and the Bruins will always want to beat Southern California more than any other team.
Beyond that, this budding cross-state rivalry is quickly becoming the top game on the schedule for both teams.
For one, the schools compete for many of the same recruits.
Southern California is a rich bed of talent that the Sun Devils have attempted to harvest in Graham's three years as coach. Beating one of the teams you're competing with for a recruit could go a long way toward swaying his decision.
On the field, the Bruins and Sun Devils have essentially played a de facto Pac-12 South title game the past two seasons.
In 2012, the first season for Graham at ASU and Jim Mora at UCLA, the Bruins came into the desert and rode off with a wild 45-43 win on a last-second field goal. UCLA still had some work to do after that, but the victory over Arizona State effectively clinched the South for the Bruins.
The Sun Devils returned the favor last season, clinching the Pac-12 South by outlasting UCLA 38-33 in Southern California.
This year's game comes much earlier - the past two were in late October and November - but will be no less significant with both teams going into it 3-0.
''You don't give any motivational speeches for this game, you don't have to worry about if the kids are flat,'' Graham said. ''They'll be fired up and ready to go. It's been one of the marquee games each year.''
Now, about those quarterbacks.
Kelly injured his right foot against Colorado on Sept. 13 and was still on crutches and wearing a protective boot on Monday.
In his place against UCLA - and maybe beyond - will be Bercovici.
The big-armed junior has been waiting for his chance since Kelly beat him out in a tight preseason battle to be the starter in 2012. He's thrown a total of 24 passes since then, but has treated every practice and rep as if he were the starter, waiting for this moment.
Arizona State had a bye last week, giving Bercovici extra time to work with the first team before facing UCLA.
''Going into this game is nothing new, as far as anxiety or anything like that,'' he said after Monday's practice. ''I've just got to go in and do my job, not turn the ball over, get the sticks moving.''
Since UCLA's Sept. 13 win over Texas, the question surrounding the Bruins has been: What about Hundley?
Mora isn't saying.
Actually, he isn't saying much of anything other than his team will need a quarterback against Arizona State.
Could be Jerry Neuheisel, who rallied the Bruins to a win over the Longhorns. Could be redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard. Could be Hundley.
The message out of Los Angeles is purposefully vague, like this comment by Mora after being asked if Hundley will play:
''All of our players who are out, what we try to do is make the best decisions for them based upon the knowledge we have,'' he said. ''We depend on our doctors to get us good information, and we got the best doctors in the nation in my opinion. If they clear him, and they say he can play, just like everyone else, then we'll play him.''
Hundley or not, this will be a big game for both teams.