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Daily Duel in the Desert: Larry Smith, The Streak, and UA Takes The Shine Off ASU's Gold

 The Western Athletic Conference years in the Duel in the Desert  were pretty dismal from a Wildcats' perspective. Through the 1960s and 1970s, Arizona beat Arizona State just six times, half of which came from 1960 to '62. 

Legendary Frank Kush built ASU into something of a national powerhouse in the late '60s into the '70s. The Sun Devils were snubbed from bowl berths because of their perceived weak schedule. This slight eventually led to the formation of the Fiesta Bowl, but ASU wanted to be able to play for national championships. 

Think of ASU then like Utah's addition to the Pac now. 

UA fans can thank Kush's teams for the Wildcat coming along. Yes, as a UA alum I understand it's a tough pill to swallow but the university does owe a debt of gratitude to Tempe Normal. 

Not content to be a mere coattail rider, the UA athletic department sought a head coach who could mold Wildcat football into something respectable in the newly formed Pacific 10 Conference. Larry Smith had been a defensive coordinator at UA in the mid-'70s, including the '74 season when the Wildcats spun a 10-0 gem against Kush's Devils to cap a 9-2 campaign. 

Smith left the desert for Tulane two years later, where he needed just three seasons to guide the Green Wave to the Liberty Bowl. Bringing him back to Tucson in 1980 was a no-brainer. The decision paid dividends quickly.

Smith scored what remains one of the biggest wins in program history his first season, knocking off No. 2 UCLA in Arizona Stadium. The Sun Devils remained an albatross for Arizona, though. A top 10 ASU team blasted Smith's first Wildcat team, 44-7, then the next year at Sun Devil Stadium won No. 16 of 22. 

That marked the last time ASU held the Territorial Cup for a decade. 

Arizona's 28-18 win in the 1982 Duel in the Desert began the longest win streak for either side of the rivalry since the leather helmet era when UA won every game from 1932 to 1949. In the time Smith, then later Dick Tomey claimed consecutive Territorial Cups:

- Ronald Reagan won reelection

- George H.W. Bush was elected 

- The United States participated in a war to completion

- The Nintendo was introduced

- The Super Nintendo was introduced

- Lute Olson coached the Arizona basketball team to 180 wins

Indeed, it was an arduous time for ASU football. Sympathy for the Devils? Hardly. 

 Perhaps adding to ASU's anguish, through those eight Wildcat wins and one tie, the average margin of victory was 7.8 points. 

Smith began the streak, and built UA into the respectable program the athletic department and fans sought, but Tomey oversaw what was perhaps the best win of the streak. 

ASU had battled from a .500 record with a three-game win streak leading into the Duel. The Sun Devils needed one more win to reach the postseason, and were hosting the Wildcats. To mark the occasion, ASU broke out all-gold uniforms. f you've ever wondered why Devil football doesn't go the all-mustard route, you have your reason. 

Predating the Desert Swarm moniker, UA brought the Bear Formation that was the Swarm era's trademark into Sun Devil Stadium and gave the Devils hell. ASU scored just 10 points as UA cruised. The 28-10 victory propelled the Wildcats into the Top 25 and Copper Bowl where they would top NC State. And almost as significant, UA kept ASU out of its own bowl game.