Nearly two years ago, the State of Arizona and the Arizona Football Club faced off in a commemorative Territory Cup.
The two teams totaled 77 points, although ASU scored 70 of them. The Sunny Devils also had a 14-point lead less than a minute into the game.
They had only one offensive play by less than seven points, a four-yard touchdown by DeaMonte Traianum after being flipped by the Wildcats early in the game.
As ugly as this game has become for Arizona, the aftermath epitomizes “there’s nowhere to go but up.”
For the Sun Devils, their rise has lasted a little longer, and in 2021 they are ranked 18th nationally. However, since then it has declined.
Let’s look at these two teams after that 70-7 breakout in Tucson.
The next day, the Wildcats fired head coach Kevin Sumlin, who ran the program 9–20 (0–5 in 2020). Twelve days later, former New England Patriots quarterback coach Jedd Fish got the job.
Fish came out of left field at the time. He was a finalist for the position before Sumlin was hired in 2018, but the UCLA Bruins only had two games as interim head coach at that point.
Fish’s first year was not his best on the field, as the team went 1-11 and had the worst 10 hits in FBS.
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 was Jamari Joyner, more of a receiver than a quarterback.
Despite all of this, according to 247Sports, the Wildcats finished 3rd in the Pac-12 rankings entering this season.
Although their additions through the transfer portal ranked 6th, quarterback Jayden de Laura and wide receiver Jacob Cowing gave Arizona a quarterback-receiver duo that is one of the most productive in the conference.
In fact, de Laura’s 25 touchdowns in 11 games this season is more than Arizona combined since 2020.
Wide receiver Dorian Singer also moved up to reliable No. 2 wide receiver, with freshman Tetairoa McMillan making an immediate impact. As a result, the Wildcats are in the top 55 offensive scoring lists in FBS, averaging 30.2 points per game.
Thanks to strong offense, Arizona (4-7) fought its way to the highest number of wins in the program since 2019.
Arizona appears to be a program on the rise and could become a possible Pac-12 threat with a couple of stronger recruiting and transfer classes.
ASU boasts better results than Arizona since that fateful day in December 2020, but the direction of the program is the opposite of Wildcats.
The descent did not start right away. ASU ended the 2020 season with a victory over Oregon State and then opened 2021 as the No. 25 team in the nation.
Even before the start of the 2022 season, the team lost several retired assistant coaches due to involvement in NCAA recruiting violations.
After a 5-1 start, the Sun Devils finished 18th in the nation before scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half against Utah in a Week 7 loss. A loss to Washington State the following week shattered the team’s hopes of vying for a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Despite a backstage overhaul, ASU athletic director Ray Anderson trusted head coach Herm Edwards to keep the train on track, telling players that Edwards would keep his job until 2022.
Then came the off-season. Defensive coordinator and recruiting head Antonio Pierce and offensive coordinator Zach Hill left the team as ASU signed the worst recruiting class ever.
The team also lost quarterback Jayden Daniels, wide receivers Ricky Pearsall and Johnny Wilson, and linebacker Eric Gentry to a transfer portal. All four are living successfully in their new homes.
And at Tempe, it only took three games to stay true to Edwards, and it backfired.
After beating Northern Arizona 40-3, the Sun Devils lost two games in a row, including a 30-21 loss to Eastern Michigan.
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as Edwards and the school parted ways two days later.
After the change of coach, ASU showed flashes in attack, including in three games with a score of at least 35 points.
In addition, interim head coach Sean Aguano has made efforts to improve recruiting in the state, although his future at the helm is not guaranteed.
The next head coach could be an outside one, suggesting another potential lineup and coaching staff overhaul.
Thirteen months after the ASU team finished 18th in the nation, it switched places with Arizona and has yet to learn of its fate from an NCAA investigation.
When ASU and Arizona meet on November 25, it could very well be the official changing of the guard in terms of which football program has a better short-term future. But as we’ve learned here, short term really means short term in college football.