Almost two years ago, Arizona State and Arizona Football met in a memorable episode of the Territorial Cup.
The two teams combined for 77 points, although ASU scored 70 of those. The Sun Devils also held a 14-point lead less than a minute into the game.
They ran just one offensive play by less than seven points — DeaMonte Trayanum’s 4-yard touchdown run after the Wildcats turned it over on kickoff.
As ugly as this game got for Arizona, the episodes embody “nowhere but up.”
The Sun Devils took a little longer to climb, finishing 18th nationally in 2021, but things have been downhill since then.
Let’s take a look at these two teams since the 70-7 blowout in Tucson.
The next day, the Wildcats fired head coach Kevin Sumlin, who was in charge of the 9-20 program (0-5 in 2020). Twelve days later, former New England Patriots quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch got the job.
Fish came a little out of left field back then. He was a finalist for the job before Sumlin was hired in 2018, but for the UCLA Bruins he’s only had two games as interim coaching experience up to this point in his career.
Year 1 for Fish was not great on the field as the team went 1-11 and had an offense in the FBS bottom 10.
The Wildcats had four players attempt at least 10 passes, and three of them threw more interceptions than touchdowns. The only one who didn’t, Jamarye Joiner, is more of a receiver than a quarterback.
Despite all of that, the Wildcats made it to the #3 recruit class in the Pac-12, competing this season, according to 247Sports.
Though their additions ranked #6 via the transfer portal, quarterback Jayden de Laura and wide receiver Jacob Cowing made Arizona a quarterback-receiver duo that’s one of the most prolific of the conference.
In fact, de Laura’s 25 touchdown passes in 11 games this season is more than Arizona has had since 2020 combined.
Wide receiver Dorian Singer also rose to become a solid No. 2 receiver, while newcomer Tetairoa McMillan made an immediate impression. As a result, the Wildcats have a top-55 offense scoring in FBS, averaging a respectable 30.2 points per game.
Strong offensive performance helped Arizona (4-7) battle their way to the program’s highest win total since 2019.
Arizona appears to be a program on the rise and could pose a potential Pac-12 threat with a few stronger recruit and transfer classes.
State of Arizona
ASU may have a better record than Arizona since that fateful day in December 2020, but the direction of the program is the opposite of the Wildcats.
It didn’t go downhill immediately. ASU finished the 2020 season with a win over Oregon State and opened 2021 as the No. 25 team in the country.
Before the start of the 2022 season, the team lost several assistant coaches to resignations for involvement in NCAA recruiting violations.
After a 5-1 start, the Sun Devils finished 18th in the nation before conceding 28 unanswered points in the second half against Utah in a Week 7 loss. A loss to Washington State the next week helped knock the wind out of the team’s hopes of fighting for a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Despite the touchline overhaul, ASU athletic director Ray Anderson trusted head coach Herm Edwards to keep the train on the tracks and told players Edwards would keep his job through 2022.
Then came the off-season. Defensive coordinator and head of recruits Antonio Pierce and offensive coordinator Zak Hill both left the team when ASU signed its worst-ever recruiting class.
The team also lost quarterback Jayden Daniels, wide receivers Ricky Pearsall and Johnny Wilson, and linebacker Eric Gentry to the transfer portal. All four are successful in their new homes.
And at Tempe, it only took three games to stay loyal to Edwards to backfire.
After beating Northern Arizona 40-3, the Sun Devils lost back-to-back, including a 30-21 loss to Eastern Michigan.
That was the drop that broke the camel’s back when Edwards and the school parted ways two days later.
ASU has shown offensive streaks since the coaching change, including three games with at least 35 points.
Additionally, interim head coach Shaun Aguano has made efforts to improve recruiting at the state, although his future at the helm is not guaranteed.
The next head coach could be external, which comes with another possible overhaul of the squad and coaching staff.
Thirteen months after becoming the country’s 18th team, ASU has traded places with Arizona and has yet to learn their fate from the NCAA investigation.
When ASU and Arizona face off on November 25, it could very well be an official changing of the guard as to which football program has a brighter future in the near term. But as we’ve learned here, in college football, short term really means short term.