Arizona State on Saturday won its third straight Territorial Cup contest, earned a share of the Pac-10 title and took care of business in its bid for a Bowl Championship Series berth.
The Sun Devils set their sights on the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale after a 20-17 victory against Arizona at Sun Devil Stadium. However, in this, the wackiest of seasons, the Sun Devils must hope that happenings elsewhere in college football have not locked them out of a BCS game.
“I don’t know where we’ll play next, and frankly, I don’t care,” first-year coach Dennis Erickson said. “All I care about is that we won this game against the University of Arizona. What happens next, we don’t control.
“I’ve said all along that this rivalry game is the most important for us to win, because that is the one they remember.”
What will happen today, when the BCS standings are released and the bowl pairings announced? No one knows for certain — especially if USA Today (coaches) and Harris Interactive poll voters opt to revamp their ballots following losses by the top two teams in the BCS chase, Missouri and West Virginia.
“There were some losses as far as teams in the top two,” said quarterback Rudy Carpenter, who was 20-of-37 for 247 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. “Coach Erickson said that wherever we go, we’re going to go to a big bowl, so we’ll just wait and see.”
That entire big-bowl picture could be shaken up, possibly sending Big Ten champion Ohio State and SEC East Division runner-up Georgia to New Orleans to play for the national championship on Jan. 7.
Five anchor conference champions must be slotted. If the Rose Bowl selects Illinois as a replacement for anchor Ohio State, and the Orange Bowl takes one-loss Kansas with the first pick for unfilled slots, that could leave two automatic qualifiers — West Virginia and Hawaii — remaining for the Fiesta and Sugar bowls.
Players politicked for an invitation to the Fiesta Bowl with passion.
Carpenter: “I want to go to the Fiesta Bowl. We’re 10-2, we’re the hometown team and I think we deserve it.”
Defensive tackle Michael Marquardt, who received the Ben Goo Trophy as the game’s most valuable player: “I would like to go to the Fiesta Bowl. I think it would be great for Glendale and great for our fans. It’s a good fit.”
If the BCS does not pan out, ASU will likely play in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27.
The Sun Devils — who finished tied with Southern California atop the Pac-10 with a 7-2 league record — were not pretty on Saturday. But their offense made enough big plays while the defense played big against a Wildcats squad that put up 116 points in its previous three contests.
Marquardt, a senior, had just one tackle but was a catalyst, recovering a fumble and helping limit Arizona to 44 yards rushing. He also blocked a field goal attempt in the third quarter.
Cornerback Justin Tryon had a team-high seven tackles and kept the Pac-10’s leading receiver, Mike Thomas, under control. Defensive end Dexter Davis had two sacks, bringing his season total to 10 1/2.
“It was a great defensive effort,” Erickson said. “We made stops and got turnovers. That was key because offensively, I felt that we weren’t as efficient as we needed to be.”
ASU’s first score came in the second quarter when Carpenter, flushed out by the pass rush, flipped the ball toward the back of the end zone, where receiver Tyrice Thompson jumped up to make the catch, the first TD of his career.
“I didn’t know he was going to throw it, but I tell Rudy all the time that all he has to do it put it in the air and I’ll go get it,” said Thompson, who likes to call himself “The Elevator.”
After the Wildcats (5-7 overall, 4-5 Pac-10) closed the gap to a field goal in the fourth quarter, Carpenter tossed a more conventional TD pass to Michael Jones. The 20-yard reception made the score 20-10 with 4:27 remaining.
“I love keeping UA out of a bowl game,” Carpenter said. “I love doing it every single year. It wasn’t a perfect win, but when it comes down to it, we’re just happy to get the win.”
Now, the Sun Devils wait.