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Arizona won’t lack motivation heading into Territorial Cup, but approach changes with postseason on horizon


To help his many newcomers understand the importance of the Territorial Cup, first-year ASU coach Kenny Dillingham showed his team a video chronicling the history of one of college football’s longest rivalries.

Jedd Fisch also has quite a few players who have never participated in the Duel in the Desert, but no video presentation was needed.

“I just showed them the billboard,” Fisch said Monday.

The billboard he’s referring to—in case you blocked out that memory—was the one ASU fans put up along Interstate 10 in the wake of the 70-7 beatdown by the Sun Devils in Tucson in 2020. That completed a winless season and led to Kevin Sumlin’s firing the next day, with Fisch inheriting a 12-game losing streak when he hired a few weeks later.

“I recognize the importance of the game because I know that I was hired after it,” Fisch said, noting that the Territorial Cup was a big topic on the Zoom call he had with about 75 former UA football players shortly after he took the job. “My job was to introduce myself to them, and I think their job was to kind of inform you a little bit about the history of Arizona football. And clearly the game itself, the Territorial Cup, is one of the most important parts of Arizona football.”

Arizona reclaimed the Cup last season for the first time since 2016, but a win Saturday at ASU would give it back-to-back victories for the first time since 2008-09. And while veterans like Mike Wiley got to hold the Cup last year, Wiley is one of 13 current Wildcats who were on the roster in 2020. Others include Jordan Morgan, Treydan Stukes, Kyle Ostendorp and Tyler Loop.

“It means a ton to them, it’s a huge part of their legacy,” Fisch said of the 2020 game. “It’s a huge part of what they want to get accomplished here before they leave, they do not want to leave here 1-3, or 1-4, or whatever it is.”

There’s another new wrinkle to this year’s game, at least for Arizona, as it won’t be the season finale. The Wildcats will go to a bowl game, and are still alive for the Pac-12 championship, and that will result in a slightly different approach to the week as well as the game itself.

“We can’t be nearly as undisciplined as we were at the end of last year,” Fisch said. “Or at the end of that game, I should say. Neither team was playing for a bowl game. Guys were getting kicked out of the game, guys were suspended for the first half of the next game. Now we got another game to play, if not two. We can’t be making any undisciplined moves that could prevent us from being able to be a full deck for the bowl season.”

As for Arizona’s Pac-12 title game hopes, it will know if there’s still a chance long before kickoff Saturday. If Oregon beats Oregon State in the Civil War on Friday night, Oregon will face Washington on Dec. 1 in Las Vegas. If OSU wins on the road that opens the door for the Wildcats to get in with a victory in Tempe.

“I told the team yesterday we’re Pac-12 South champions,” Fisch said. “They just decided to change the rules of the Pac-12 championship game a year ago. But if you look at it, we clinched it. We clinched the Pac-12 South. Our guys understand that’s a nice little feather in your cap. There’s no concern at all in my mind about the emotions of our team for this game. We are playing our bitter rival, and it is a duel in the desert. It is two teams in the state of Arizona going at it, and I have no concern that no matter what happens on Friday night, between the two Oregon schools that are playing, will be any different than 1:30 pm on Saturday.”