When UCLA visits Arizona State Friday in Tempe, Ariz., the stakes are clear: Lose and be eliminated from post season consideration.
The Bruins (4-6) and the Sun Devils (4-6) must win their two remaining games to become eligible for a bowl game, which should add to the intrigue of this Black Friday showdown.
But Arizona State may already be eliminated from postseason eligibility. The Sun Devils have defeated two Football Championship Subdivision teams and would need a special waiver from the NCAA to become bowl eligible with a 6-6 record.
That means they will be looking to impress the decision makers in this game against UCLA.
“It’s kind of like a playoff game, I guess,” UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said. “It will be a spirited game. There’s a level of intensity that is going to be prevalent around the league with respect to trying to stay alive in this thing.”
To have things come down to the wire is nothing new for Arizona State. This has been a season of close calls, but Sun Devils can’t seem to come away with the cigar. They have lost four times by four points or fewer.
An offense that is averaging 30.2 points has enabled Arizona State to stay close with top-tier teams. The Sun Devils lost to Wisconsin by a point, stayed with Oregon for a half before losing, lost to USC on a late field goal and lost to Stanford on a late touchdown.
“They are a very, very talented team,” Neuheisel said. “They easily could be in the thick of the Pac 10 race given the nature of their games and how close they’ve been to being on the other side of the ledger.”
Arizona State features a spread offense led by quarterback Steven Threet. The Sun Devils are 18th in the nation in passing offense with 278.6 yards passing per game and Threet is second in the Pac 10 with 253 yards passing per game.
But while Arizona State’s offense has been formidable, its defense has been suspect. The Sun Devils have given up 34.8 points per game in their five Pac-10 losses. The inability of the defense to come through in the clutch is a major reason the Sun Devils have struggled in those close games.
Oregon scored 14 fourth-quarter points to pull away for a 42-31 victory. USC drove 68 yards and kicked an eventual game-winning field goal with 3:53 to play. Stanford drove 85 yards and scored a game-winning touchdown with 5:14 to play.
“We’ve got to find a way to play a clean game and not hurt ourselves as has been the case in many of our defeats this year and see if we can’t get our fifth win and give ourselves a chance to get to post season,” Neuheisel said. “That’s the goal.”