TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The championship hopes were gone weeks ago in a season of unfulfilled expectations.
But for Arizona and Arizona State, one game can make all the difference.
Win the Territorial Cup on Saturday and everything that's happened to this point will all seem a little better. Lose this rivalry game and it will feel much worse.
''Our fans talk about this game year round. Our guys, our players and our coaches hear about it all the time,'' Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. ''It is an intense rivalry and a lot of emotion goes into it. There is usually a lot at stake, there was a lot more at stake from a national perspective more last year than this year, but there is still a lot at stake. It is the biggest game on our schedule every year.''
Arizona (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12) rolled through an easy non-conference schedule before laboring once the Pac-12 started. The Wildcats were blown out in consecutive games to start conference, then followed a two-game winning streak with three straight losses.
Arizona gained a bit of momentum back last week, knocking Utah out of the College Football Playoff picture while making itself bowl eligible with a 37-30, double-overtime win over the Utes.
Arizona State (5-5, 3-4) had aspirations of winning the Pac-12 Championship and playing in the College Football Playoff. The Sun Devils never had much of a chance at those lofty goals, losing two of their first four games, then three straight to drop out of the Pac-12 South race.
Arizona State gained a modicum of satisfaction last week by fighting back from injuries to key players and rallying from a 17-point deficit to beat Washington 27-17 at home.
In case they need added incentive, the Sun Devils still need to win another game to become bowl eligible for the fifth straight season. Doing it against Arizona at home would make it all that much sweeter.
''It doesn't matter what the records are. It doesn't matter what you've done up to this point,'' Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. ''The bottom line, this is a rival game and one that is very passionate on both sides.''
A few more things to look for when Arizona plays Arizona State on Saturday in the Territorial Cup:
SCORING POTENTIAL: Neither team has played particularly well on defense this season. Arizona is 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 34.2 points per game, and 10th in total defense, giving up 454.2 yards. The Sun Devils are only marginally better, allowing 422.4 yards and 30.7 points. With two explosive offenses playing in a rivalry game, the lack of defense could lead to some offensive fireworks in the desert.
ARIZONA'S QBS: Arizona starting quarterback Anu Solomon is questionable for Saturday's game after suffering a concussion against Utah last week, which means Jerrard Randall could get the start. Solomon was having his best game of the season against the Utes, throwing for 277 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 86 yards and another score before being hit by Utah's Jason Fanaika. Solomon is a better passer, Randall is a more explosive runner.
MISSING STARS ON D: Both teams will be missing their star defensive players. Arizona had hoped Scooby Wright would be back by now, but the All-American linebacker was listed as out on the injury report. He injured his knee in the season opener and missed games, then went down with a foot injury his first game back. Arizona State lost safety Jordan Simone to a season-ending knee injury suffered last week against Washington. He was the national leader in tackles per game heading into last weekend.
CUP FACTS: The Territorial Cup is recognized by the NCAA as the nation's oldest rivalry trophy, first presented in 1899. Arizona leads the all-time series 48-39-1, with the Sun Devils holding a 20-18-1 advantage in Tempe. After four straight wins by the visiting team, the home team has won the past two, including Arizona's 45-35 victory at Arizona Stadium that was essentially the Pac-12 South title game.