The Duel in the Desert. Possibly the best college football rivalry that no one outside of the state of Arizona has ever heard of.
The Territorial Cup is actually the oldest rivalry trophy recognized by the NCAA. Friday afternoon will mark the 88th meeting all-time between the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils. The Wildcats currently lead the series 47-39-1.
You think there is bad blood in some of the more well-known rivalries like Michigan-Ohio State, or Texas-Oklahoma, or even USC-Notre Dame? Spend some time in Tucson or Tempe in the month of November and you’ll understand the meaning of bad blood. In fact, a scientific study of these factors showed that UA-ASU is the most intense rivalry in all of college football.
Each year, student groups from each school plan out a trip to the other’s town, where the mission is to paint ‘A’ Mountain in their school colors. It’s gotten to the point over the years that student government groups set up Google Docs where people can sign up to take a shift to protect their A. You need to see the ‘A’s to understand just how visible they are in both Tucson and Tempe, and how ridiculous those mountains look when they get painted either red and blue or maroon and gold.
When someone is found wearing a U of A shirt on Mill Avenue in Tempe, there’s a good chance that you’ll see an entire bar turn on that person. The same goes for when someone shows up in the ASU colors on Fourth Avenue in Tucson. You can’t escape it, no matter what time of year it is. But especially in late November.
The problem with the rivalry is that there is not usually a lot riding on the result of the game as far as national implications. Arizona has still never won a Pac-10/12 title outright, so whenever they meet, it’s just the Wildcats trying to ruin ASU’s season for the most part. But that changes this year.
This year’s Duel in the Desert is arguably the biggest in the entire history of the rivalry. Both the Sun Devils and Wildcats enter the game with a 9-2 record. It’s the first time since 1975 that both teams have met while having at least nine wins. That 1975 game featured a No. 8 ASU squad against No. 12 Arizona, with a Fiesta Bowl bid on the line. The Sun Devils took that game 24-21 at Sun Devil Stadium in arguably the greatest Territorial Cup game of all-time.
In addition to a possible Fiesta Bowl bid on the line this time around, there’s a possible Pac-12 Championship berth on the line if Stanford can go to UCLA and take down the Bruins in a game that is occurring simultaneously to the UA-ASU game Friday afternoon.
Head coaches Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez have really brought this rivalry to the next level over the past three seasons. Both coaches came to their respective schools before the 2012 season, and in the first two matchups, Graham has come out on top both times. The longest winning streak in the rivalry is held by Arizona. The Wildcats won eleven-straight from 1932-48. ASU won nine-straight from 1965-73 for their longest win streak against UA.
The average college football fan might not truly appreciate the sheer hatred that Arizona and Arizona State fans have for each other’s schools, but with both of these programs establishing themselves in the upper-echelon of the sport, the country will get a little taste of it Friday afternoon. With all of the hype heading into the game, and the overall history of close finishes in this rivalry, college football fans need to be tuning into this game to see everything surrounding the game. Something special will likely happen on the field at Arizona Stadium.
*Section Photo credit to William Mancebo,Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Mark. J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports.