The Arizona Wildcats go to Tempe on Saturday to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in a game that will decide who gets to mock who on the message boards for the next year. The national relevance may not be at the same level as last year's iteration, but that doesn't diminish the importance of the Territorial Cup in any Wildcat or Sun Devil fan's eyes. Here are five players Arizona fans need to know going into Saturday's game:
Mike Bercovici, QB, No. 2
Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. Though technically this is his first full year as starting quarterback for the ASU offense, Mike Bercovici is well-known to Arizona and, much to their chagrin, USC Trojan fans alike. In the 2014 version of the Territorial Cup, Bercovici came into the game in the second half for the Sun Devils and proved to be a dramatic improvement over the struggling Taylor Kelly. Given his success in 2014, many thought that he would actually be an improvement over Kelly in 2015. ESPN analyst and semi-professional John Boehner impersonator Kirk Herbstreit nominated Bercovici for his preseason "Welcome To The Party" award.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, Bercovici hasn't quite lived up to these lofty expectations. It's not that his numbers have been terrible (59% completion rate, 2732 yards, and a 20/8 touchdown to interception ratio), it's that they haven't been up to what we saw on the field from him in 2014. With only four games of significant playing time in 2014, Bercovici completed 61% of his passes, put up 12 touchdowns, and only threw 4 picks. Add to this that the Sun Devils are sitting at 5-5 when their own head coach has said that this is "the best team we've had overall," and you've got a good recipe for QB blame. And yet, Bercovici has stepped up in a few marquee games for ASU this year, beating the then-No. 7 UCLA Bruins on the road and hanging five touchdowns on the Oregon Ducks in a loss at home. He may not be living up to preseason expectations, but he's still dangerous and the Wildcats defense will need to keep a keen eye on him throughout the game.
Tim White, WR, No. 12
Going into the offseason, one of the biggest questions for the Sun Devils was how to replace the extremely talented Jaelen Strong, he of the afore-linked Jael Mary. The solution has been Tim White, which was somewhat of a surprise to the ASU faithful. AZ Desert Swarm's sister site, House Of Sparky, named White the mid-season offensive player of the year and had the following to say about his breakout start:
Despite being 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, White's athleticism has helped him become Arizona State's go-to target and a decent replacement to Jaelen Strong. Without White's presence, ASU's passing game is just about defunct, as shown in its season opener against Texas A&M when the Sun Devils recorded just 199 passing yards.
Arizona's secondary is not necessarily known for their lock-down coverage, so this will be a player to watch all game. White also does a little of everything, returning kicks and punts and occasionally getting the ball as a runner on jet sweeps. He currently has a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and a 34.5 yard per rush average.
Demario Richard, RB, No. 4
Richard is one of the key cogs of the ASU offense. More than just a rushing threat (6 touchdowns, 5.4 yards per carry), Richards also catches passes out of the backfield with great success (3 touchdowns, 10.0 yards per catch). Richard has actually supplanted the man many thought was primed for a huge season, D.J. Foster, who, like Bercovici, hasn't quite lived up to expectations. Expect to see ASU get Richard involved often against Arizona's defense, which has been suspect to the run (and the pass) most of the year.
JoJo Wicker, DL, No. 1
If it hadn't been for the Washington game last week, this spot would have almost certainly gone to safety Jordan Simone, ASU's top tackler and senior defensive leader. Unfortunately, Simone left the previous game with a torn ACL and is out for the season. Here's hoping for a quick recovery for Jordan. This space also could have been dedicated to LB Salamo Fiso, a tackling machine who's racked up 76 total take-downs this year.
Instead, we're going to look at defensive lineman Joseph "JoJo" Wicker, a true freshman 4-star recruit who's earned a spot at the top of the DL depth chart for the Sun Devils. Coach Todd Graham has called Wicker the "best defensive lineman he's ever been around as far as recruiting," and if there's one thing we know about Coach Graham, he does not indulge in hyperbole. Wicker has been a force on the defensive line, accounting for five sacks on the year and playing stopgap against the run. With or without Nick Wilson in the lineup, Arizona's run game will need to get Wicker out of the way to have success in the read-option offense.
Zane Gonzalez, K, No. 5
If you think a kicker is a wasted addition to this list, you should have a word with the Zendejas family. I vowed never to watch this video again, but in case you've forgotten how important a good place kicker can be to this rivalry, watch this and wallow in masochistic self-pity. Kickers are a key element to any closely contested rivalry game, and luckily for the Sun Devils, they've got themselves a good one. Zane Gonzalez was a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza award in 2013 and 2014, and named to the 2015 preseason watch list for the same. Gonzalez is currently in third place all-time at ASU in points scored with 329, and is only the second Sun Devil to kick 20 or more field goals in multiple seasons.
Staying with the theme for ASU in 2015, Gonzalez hasn't quite lived up to expectations in his junior year, making 68% of his field goals this year versus 81% in 2014 and 83% in 2013. Even so, he's still a seasoned veteran that ASU has no problem relying on to make kicks when they need them. If this game is close towards the end, Gonzalez is not the guy Arizona fans want to see coming on to the field.