Duel In The Desert: A Look At The Arizona-Arizona State College Football Rivalry

Written By C.J. Pierre on November 18, 2021 - Last Updated on January 30, 2023
College Football Rivalry Arizona

One of the longest-standing rivalries in college football will see another matchup take place in less than two weeks.

The University of Arizona Wildcats and the Arizona State University Sun Devils will meet on Saturday, Nov. 27 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. On the line: The Territorial Cup. The trophy was created 122 years ago, in 1899, and has been certified by the NCAA as the oldest rivalry trophy in college football.

As fans make their plans to take in the in-state matchup, PlayAZ will take a look at what makes this rivalry so special.

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Arizona vs. Arizona State: 95th edition of college football rivalry

Did you know that the Wildcats and Sun Devils have faced off more often than Alabama and Auburn?

Arizona’s two FBS schools will meet for the 95th time this season. That’s more than Notre Dame-USC and even Alabama-LSU. Both those rivalries are viewed as more historical in the public eye. But in reality, the matchup between Arizona and Arizona State, located just 100 miles from each other, is up there with the best of them.

The Wildcats lead the all-time series with a record of 49–44–1. However, ASU has won four straight heading into the 2021 edition, including a 70-7 thumping in Tucson last year. They have not all been stinkers. In fact, there have been some classic matchups in recent years.

Take Nov. 24, 2018, for example, the first game featuring current Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards and former Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin in Tucson. In that game, the Sun Devils battled back and completed the biggest comeback in Territorial Cup history by erasing a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 41–40 win.

The most recent ranked-vs-ranked matchup between the two universities took place on Nov. 28, 2014, also in Tucson. Arizona walked in ranked No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings while ASU held the No. 13 spot. With a trip to the Pac-12 Conference championship on the line, the Wildcats held off a late Sun Devils rally and won 42-35.

How UArizona-ASU rivalry stacks up against other college football feuds

The Wildcats and Sun Devils rivalry may not be the longest in college football, but it surely is one of the more competitive ones.

All-time, Arizona only has a five-game advantage over ASU. In comparison, The Bedlam Series between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, which has seen 115 matchups, is the definition of hammer vs. nail. Oklahoma leads the series 90–18–7. The rivalry that’s featured the fifth-most games played also stems from the Pac-12: Oregon vs. Oregon State. The Ducks have dominated the series, leading it 66–48–10.

When many people think of a college football rivalry, they think of the hatred between the fan bases. One of the most notable is Ohio State-Michigan. The beef between the campuses is so heated that commercials were made to emphasize just how much the fans of the two schools couldn’t co-exist. The same can be said for the fans of Arizona and ASU.

Yet while other in-state, regional and even interconference matchups may garner more attention and headlines as well as brighter spotlights, few have the dated history of Arizona-Arizona State.

Consider the first game between the two programs, played in 1899, 13 years before Arizona officially became a US state. A time when the football was rounder. When touchdowns were worth five points. When Arizona State (then known as the Normal School of Arizona) claimed the “Arizona Territorial Football League Championship (a four-way series that also included Phoenix Union High School and Phoenix Indian School) with an 11-2 victory over Arizona.

One more game before Arizona-ASU renew the duel

Both teams each have one more game before the meet for the Territorial Cup. Arizona State faces Oregon State, while Arizona takes on Washington State.

With 7-3 overall and 5-2 Pac-12 records, the Sun Devils have already secured a trip to a bowl game and are still in contention to win the Pac-12 South. The Sun Devils need to win their final two games and have Utah lose their last two. If that happens, ASU will earn a trip to the Pac-12 Championship game.

On the other hand, it has been a rough season for Arizona. The Wildcats are 1-9, with their only win coming against a COVID-wrecked California team. However, if you look at it glass half-full, Arizona did snap the nation’s longest losing streak at 20 games with that win.

When Nov. 27 rolls around, expect the Sun Devils to be heavy favorites in the Arizona sports betting market. Time will tell, though, if ASU can actually follow through.

Photo by AP / Darryl Webb
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C.J. Pierre

CJ Pierre is a multimedia journalist currently residing in the Phoenix-Metro Area in Arizona. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis and an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. CJ has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career. Most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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