Win in Territorial Cup can further in-state recruiting efforts for Arizona and ASU
Arizona State interim coach Shaun Aguano admits he'll take any advantage he can get. So being able to keep the Territorial Cup in Tempe is important to him.
The Sun Devils (3-8, 2-6) will square off against rival Arizona (4-7, 2-6) at 1 p.m. Friday in the season finale for both Pac-12 teams. The game will air on FS1.
While Arizona has a 49-45-1 edge in the series, ASU has won 14 of the last 20, including a running streak of five in a row, with a 38-15 win last season at Sun Devil stadium.
The teams are rivals and they recruit a lot of the same players. So being able to go into the home of potential players and talking about having local bragging rights provides an advantage in the high-stakes game of recruiting.
"If you’re fighting for a kid, and their (Arizona's) motto is "`It’s personal.' Well, it’s personal for us too. Winning this football game gives us another notch from a recruiting standpoint, that it’s six years we’re and winning this game. We’re a better football team, a better program than they are so there are a lot of things that you can use in that recruiting speech you give," Aguano said. "It is huge especially when you want to win the Arizona battle for kids. That’s my goal, to win and keep the best kids and just having that in your speech is something that is a huge advantage."
Scouting report: Can Arizona State keep Territorial Cup for a sixth straight season?
The path of the respective programs is completely opposite with the Sun Devils sinking to what looks like a new low which resulted in the departure of coach Herm Edwards three games into the season.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats hit rock bottom with a 20-game losing streak that stretched from midway through the 2019 season to the 10th game last season. A win Friday would give Arizona five wins, equaling the total of 2018 before the program hit the skids under then-coach Kevin Sumlin.
Both Aguano and Arizona coach Jedd Fisch have talked about the desire to keep the top players from Arizona in their fold. Both schools have local players on their roster but many of those are three-star prospects and they'd like to fare better at landing those with even higher-profile resumes.
Local players who are holding starring roles for the Sun Devils right now include senior linebacker Kyle Soelle (Saguaro) and fullback Case Hatch (Perry) while junior quarterback Trenton Bourguet (Marana), steered away from his local school to play for the rival. He'll be making his fifth start of the season when the game kicks off against the Wildcats.
Other locals on the ASU roster who have seen considerable playing time include offensive lineman Isaia Glass (Queen Creek), defensive end Anthonie Cooper (Millenium), wide receiver Andre Johnson (Tolleson Union), and more recently center Ben Bray (Red Mountain) who is now subbing for the injured starter Ben Scott.
Read more: Arizona State players look to salvage season with a win over rival for Territorial Cup
The Arizona roster includes brothers Jalen Harris (Desert Ridge) and Jason Harris (Higley) as well as safety Jaydin Young (Peoria Centennial), punter Kyle Ostendorp (Desert Vista) and cornerback Treydan Stukes (Millenium). One of the team's marquee players is wide receiver Jacob Cowing (Maricopa), a transfer from UTEP who was one of the top players in the portal.
Aguano says it is important to end the season on a high note and beating the rival is a huge consolation.
“It’s absolutely amazing that you can win one football game, and most of the rest of the season will be forgotten,” he said. “It’s a legacy for this class.”
Aguano says having roots in the state and having coached at Chandler High School has made this coaching experience all the more meaningful, and that includes being able to lead the Sun Devils in the rivalry game.
"Just sitting back and knowing I’m going to be part of a great history in Arizona, that’s going to be huge for me and when I walk on that field, taking it all in and then helping our kids understand that but it's an honor because there are a lot of great coaches that came before me and there will be a lot of great coaches after me that will play in this game, for 100-something years this game has been played and so just to be on the sidelines with my football team is a huge feather in my cap you can say, just an honor for me to represent Arizona State," he said. "Coming away with a win would also be a huge honor."
Fisch notes the difference between this rivalry and others.
"A lot of the big rivalries, you have like the city rivalry when you talk about USC, UCLA. You have the within-the-state rivalry, Florida-Florida State, Miami-Florida State. Then you have the neighboring state rivalries, which was Minnesota-Wisconsin for the ax, Ohio State-Michigan. And then you have this one that falls more under the within-the-state rivalry. Two hours away, pretty close, you're almost at somewhere between LA traffic and within the city vs. within the state," said Fisch, who was hired in 2020, with Sumlin being terminated the day after Arizona's 70-7 loss to the rival that year.
"I would say I certainly understood when you have two state universities going against each other the last game of the season it's a big rivalry. It's Auburn-Alabama. It's Arizona-Arizona State. I'm excited about being part of it. I know how important it is. I understand the significance of this game and I think it's one in which our guys recognize the 29 players we have from Arizona and a lot of them are from that part of the state so it means a lot. You listen to them talk, listen to what matters to them. This game is a really big deal. We have to prepare and play understanding that."
KICKOFF: 1 p.m. Friday, Wildcats Stadium, Tucson
TV/RADIO: TV: FS1 Radio: 98.7 FM (KMVP-FM) / Sirius XM 388 / SXM