Bill Slane

The 87th Duel in the Desert means a bit more for ASU

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Coming into the season there were certainly pundits who believed that the Sun Devils had a chance to contend for the Pac-12 title. It was believed by some that this team had the talent to win the Pac-12 South and put them in a position to possibly make a trip to the Rose Bowl. What few saw coming was the Sun Devils hosting the Pac-12 Championship game at Sun Devil Stadium.

To do that the Sun Devils would have to hold the best record in a conference that consists of the Stanford Cardinal and the Oregon Ducks, teams that are in the conversation for national titles regularly. With a win in the Duel in the Desert on Saturday ASU will clinch the best record in the conference, as if the team needed more motivation for the Territorial Cup game.

If you asked any long time fan of the Sun Devils or coach Graham however, they’d tell you the extra motivation is not necessary for the Arizona game.

“No question about it, the most important thing to our fan base every year is winning this game. You can add things to it, but you need no motivation to get ready for this game,” coach Graham said at his press conference on Monday.

This game is different from other Duels though. The opportunity to hold home field advantage for the Pac-12 Championship is certainly the on the mind’s of the ASU players, who talked about right after their victory over UCLA last Saturday. The key then for the coaching staff will be to keep their team focused on beating the Wildcats, taking everything one game at a time.

Coach Graham believes he has a very mature team, which makes it easy for him to keep them focused.

“It’s a rival game, our guys know the significance of that. And this team is a mature team, they’ve been very mature and they know exactly what they’re playing for,” coach Graham said.

This is the Territorial Cup game. You cannot predict what can happen in a rivalry game like this. In a rivalry this heated, the Sun Devils can indeed be as focused and mature as they can be but still lose on some fluke play on special teams. However, in a game of this magnitude with so much on the line it can also be easy, even for a team as mature as the Sun Devils, to lose focus just enough for them to miss that one play that costs the team a victory.

Coach Graham remains confident that focus will not be an issue on Saturday night.

“It’s very, very easy to keep them focused, we’re playing Arizona. That takes care of itself,” coach Graham said.

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