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Here’s a closer look at each of those themes heading into the latest intrastate showdown Saturday afternoon at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe: 2016: A dismal season redeemed.After eight straight sometimes embarrassing losses, the Wildcats with Jacob Alsadek (holding the Territorial Cup) celebrate a 56-35 pasting of the ASU Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium. They were sitting at 2-2 through September, with an uncertain QB situation and a cloudy future. Tate took over at quarterback, and Arizona took off.A Twitter poll asked whether ASU should fire Graham. Is it accurate to say that’s what’s really going on here?Thirty percent of respondents said yes; 48 percent said no; 22 percent said it depends on what happens vs. Graham – like counterpart Rich Rodriguez – is about to conclude his sixth season.It’s a top-line item in every offseason promotional campaign. But Roth said he probably would pick Arizona to win the South next year if USC quarterback Sam Darnold enters the 2018 NFL draft. The Arizona Republic began its Territorial Cup coverage this week with a story stating that Graham is “coaching for his job” against Arizona.A Republic columnist wrote that it’s time to move on, win or lose Saturday.But it would leave UA fans, coaches and players wondering what might have been.“Does it take off some of the luster for them? But I think there’s some really good juice around this team.”Finishing in sole possession of second place behind a USC team predicted by many to make the College Football Playoff would be a major achievement for either school.Sure,” said Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth, who will call Saturday’s game. Again, you have to go back to the offseason, when expectations were low – bordering on non-existent.
They reappeared in the AP Top 25 and debuted in the College Football Playoff rankings. Unfortunately for Arizona, that scenario is squarely in play. Another defeat wouldn’t erase all the good stuff that preceded it – just like last year’s upset win in the Territorial Cup didn’t erase all the bad stuff.
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The winner of the Territorial Cup will not represent the South Division in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona and Arizona State already have secured bowl berths. Arizona has a chance to finish its bounce-back season strong.
So what is at stake then, in the 91st meeting between the Wildcats and Sun Devils, besides year-long bragging rights? The winner will finish in second place in the Pac-12 South, far exceeding preseason expectations. And a monster performance by Khalil Tate could get him back in the running for a trip to New York to participate in the Heisman Trophy ceremony.