Nearly two years ago, Arizona State and Arizona football matched up for a memorable installment of the Territorial Cup.
The two teams combined for 77 points, though ASU scored 70 of them. The Sun Devils also had a 14-point lead less than a minute into the game.
They ran only one offensive play with less than a seven-point lead — DeaMonte Trayanum’s four-yard touchdown run after the Wildcats turned it over on the kickoff.
As ugly as that game became for Arizona, the aftermath epitomizes “nowhere to go but up.”
For the Sun Devils, their ascension lasted a little while longer, ranking as high as No. 18 nationally in 2021. However, it’s been downhill since.
Let’s take a look at these two teams since that 70-7 blowout in Tucson.
The next day, the Wildcats fired head coach Kevin Sumlin, who’d gone 9-20 in charge of the program (0-5 in 2020). Twelve days later, former New England Patriots quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch got the job.
Fisch came somewhat out of left field at the time. He’d been a finalist for the job before Sumlin was hired in 2018 but for the UCLA Bruins only had two games of interim head coaching experience to that point in his career.
Year 1 for Fisch wasn’t great on the field, as the team went 1-11 and had a bottom-10 scoring offense 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, Jamarye Joiner, is more of a receiver than quarterback.
Despite all of that, the Wildcats managed the No. 3 recruiting class in the Pac-12 entering this season, according to 247Sports.
Though their additions through the transfer portal ranked No. 6, quarterback Jayden de Laura and wide receiver Jacob Cowing gave Arizona a quarterback-receiver duo that’s one of the most productive in the conference.
In fact, de Laura’s 25 touchdown passes in 11 games this season is more than Arizona had combined since 2020.
Wide receiver Dorian Singer also ascended into a solid No. 2 receiver, while freshman Tetairoa McMillan has made an immediate impact. As a result, the Wildcats have a top-55 scoring offense in FBS, averaging a respectable 30.2 points per game.
Thanks to the strong offensive performance, Arizona (4-7) has slugged its way to the program’s highest win total since 2019.
Arizona appears to be a program on the rise and could be a possible Pac-12 threat with a couple more strong recruiting and transfer classes.
ASU may boast 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 wasn’t downhill immediately. ASU capped off the 2020 season with a win against Oregon State then opened 2021 as the No. 25 team in the country.
Before the 2022 season even began, the team lost several assistant coaches to resignations due to involvement in NCAA recruitment violations.
After a 5-1 start, the Sun Devils ranked 18th in the nation before allowing 28 unanswered points in the second half against Utah in a Week 7 loss. A loss to Washington State the next week helped suck the wind out of the team’s hopes to challenge for a spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Despite the overhaul on the sidelines, ASU athletic director Ray Anderson put faith in head coach Herm Edwards to keep the train on the tracks, telling players Edwards would keep his job into 2022.
Then came the offseason. Defensive coordinator and recruiting head Antonio Pierce and offensive coordinator Zak Hill both left the team as ASU signed its worst recruiting class on record.
The team also lost quarterback Jayden Daniels, wide receivers Ricky Pearsall and Johnny Wilson, as well as linebacker Eric Gentry to the transfer portal. All four of them are having success in their new homes.
And in Tempe, it only took three games of remaining loyal to Edwards to backfire.
After rolling to a 40-3 win over Northern Arizona, the Sun Devils lost two in a row, including a 30-21 loss to Eastern Michigan.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as Edwards and the school mutually parted ways two days later.
ASU has shown flashes on offense since the coaching change, including three games of at least 35 points.
On top of that, interim head coach Shaun Aguano has made efforts to improve in-state recruiting, though his future at the helm isn’t guaranteed.
The next head coach might be external, which comes with another potential overhaul of the roster and coaching staff.
Thirteen months after being the 18th-ranked team in the country, ASU has traded places with Arizona and hasn’t yet learned its fate from the NCAA investigation.
When ASU and Arizona face off on Nov. 25, it very well could be an official changing of the guard in terms of which football program has a better-looking short-term future. But as we learned here, short-term truly means short-term in college football.