No team in the top seven of last week’s College Football Playoff Rankings lost, and the selection committee obviously saw nothing to prompt a change in that order this week. So, we’re right back where we were last Tuesday night, except that there are now only two weeks remaining for any upsets to occur.
Each forthcoming loss among the top teams could make the selection committee’s job a little easier. But for now, let’s look at the committee’s worst-case scenarios.
In the unlikely event that the seven all run the table
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College Football Playoff: Florida State*
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Notre Dame*
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville*
Belk Bowl: Clemson*
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami*
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Duke*
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina*
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College*
BITCOIN Bowl: NC State*
Note: Notre Dame takes one of the ACC's bowl slots if it is not invited to a New Year's Six bowl game.
* Bowl eligible
Cal has a significantly easier path to win No. 6, hosting BYU on Saturday, while Oregon State must get through rival Oregon in Corvallis. If the Golden Bears win, it will likely impact where rival Stanford -- which beat Cal 38-17 -- ends up in the postseason. Even though Stanford beat Cal and travelled well for BCS bowls over the past four seasons, the Cardinal’s small fan base and demonstrated lack of enthusiasm this season doesn’t make it an attractive team for bowl officials.
Oregon remains at No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, while No. 8 UCLA remains within striking distance of the top four should it beat Stanford, then Oregon.
Here's our weekly attempt to map out where the Pac-12 teams will end up come bowl season:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual): Oregon
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Arizona
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Utah
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: California*
*Needs a win to become bowl eligible
And the SEC got another team bowl eligible, as Arkansas earned its sixth win with a 30-0 victory over Ole Miss. So that's 11 bowl-eligible teams and counting in the SEC, including the entire SEC West.
As we head into the final week of regular-season play ahead of the SEC championship game, two teams have a shot at claiming bowl eligibility that haven't already: Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky's task is tough, going to No. 22 Louisville, Tennessee's is considerably more feasible, as the Volunteers travel to Vanderbilt.
Georgia, if it wins this weekend against Georgia Tech, looks to be in good position for a New Year's Six bid. There's still much to be decided, with the Egg Bowl and the Iron Bowl on deck. Alabama and Mississippi State must win to maintain their spots, if they don't, chaos will ensue.
But assuming the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs prevail, here's how we think it'll pan out as of today, with 12 SEC bowl-eligible teams projected:
College Football Playoff semifinal (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
College Football Playoff semifinal (Sugar Bowl): Mississippi State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Auburn
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Ole Miss
TaxSlayer Bowl: Florida
Outback Bowl: Missouri
AdvoCare 100 Texas Bowl: Texas A&M
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Tennessee
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: LSU
Belk Bowl: South Carolina
Birmingham Bowl: Arkansas
TCU remained at No. 5; Baylor stayed at No. 7.
As a result, nothing changed from last week's bowl picture.
Oklahoma State is the only Big 12 team that can still play its way to bowl eligibility. But the Cowboys will have to upset Oklahoma in Bedlam on Dec. 6 to get to six wins.
Goodyear Cotton Bowl: TCU
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Texas
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: West Virginia
Cactus Bowl: None eligible
As we did for a portion of the season, we're projecting two Big Ten teams to New Year's Six bowls, as we now believe Michigan State will finish high enough for selection. The Spartans should get to 10-2 this weekend against Penn State, their only setbacks coming against playoff hopefuls Oregon and Ohio State. There's a possibility they would qualify for the Capital One Orange Bowl if they're ranked higher than the highest available SEC team. If so, the Big Ten would not have a team in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
This possibility would increase if Arkansas beats Missouri on Saturday, sending Georgia to the SEC championship game. Georgia is ahead of Michigan State in the College Football Playoff rankings, but a loss, either this week against Georgia Tech or in the SEC title game, likely would drop the Bulldogs behind Michigan State.
For now, we're keeping Michigan State out of the Orange and sending Wisconsin to the Citrus.
The Buckeyes still need some help to reach the playoff. Charlie Strong, a former Urban Meyer aide, can help his old boss Thursday when his Texas squad hosts TCU.
There are also some moves at the bottom of the projections. Michigan's loss to Maryland takes the Wolverines out of the postseason picture, as none of us expects them to win The Game at The Shoe.
The Big Ten has nine bowl-eligible teams, and there will be a 10th as Northwestern and Illinois, both 5-6, play Saturday at Ryan Field. Although the Wildcats will be without starting quarterback Trevor Siemian, we project them to win and reach the six-win threshold.
Nebraska's slide on the field means a slide in the projections, as we now have the Huskers headed to the Music City Bowl. Minnesota moves up to the Outback after its big win in Lincoln, and Maryland bumps up to the Foster Farms Bowl in the Bay Area as it positions itself for a somewhat surprising 8-4 season.
Both Penn State and Rutgers are limping toward the finish and likely will finish the regular season at 6-6. The Lions seem like a good bet to reach New York City for their postseason return, while Rutgers could be headed to Motown.
Enough jabbering. Here are the latest projections ...
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Ohio State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Goodyear Cotton/VIZIO Fiesta: Michigan State
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus: Wisconsin
National University Holiday: Iowa
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City: Nebraska
Foster Farms: Maryland
New Era Pinstripe: Penn State
Quick Lane: Rutgers
Zaxby's Heart of Dallas: Northwestern
For the first time this season, the top seven teams in the College Football Playoff Top 25 have remained the same, as determined by 11 members of the 12-member selection committee (Mike Tranghese was sick and unable to travel to Dallas for the meetings).
No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Mississippi State each won in Week 13, and in spite of another close win for the Seminoles, FSU did not drop another spot. The only difference at the top was that No. 8 UCLA, No. 9 Georgia and No. 10 Michigan State all slid up one notch to take the spot of Ole Miss, which sank nine spots to No. 19 after being shut out by Arkansas.
Here's what the bracket would look like today:
TCU is still the first team on the bubble at No. 5, followed by No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Baylor. No. 11 Arizona jumped four spots, and No. 17 Missouri is up three spots. Another big mover was No. 18 Minnesota, which rose seven spots after beating Nebraska.
The biggest surprise this week was that not one but two Group of 5 teams were ranked: No. 23 Boise State and No. 24 Marshall. It was a controversial call, as Boise State is a two-loss team just one win away from clinching the Mountain West's Mountain Division, and Marshall is the only undefeated team remaining in the Group of 5. Marshall has already clinched the Conference USA East title.
Marshall is ranked No. 19 in the latest Associated Press poll, followed by No. 21 Colorado State and No. 25 Boise State. This is the first time since Week 10, when East Carolina was ranked in the selection committee's first Top 25, that the Group of 5 has been represented in the CFP rankings.
That would make Boise State the frontrunner to represent the Group of 5 in a New Year's Six Bowl.
As for the other major bowls, here's a projection based on the current rankings:
The Orange Bowl lost the ACC champion (FSU) so it gets the next highest-ranked ACC team, No. 16 Georgia Tech. The Orange Bowl then selects the next highest-ranked nonconference championship team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. By contract, displaced conference champs from the SEC and Big Ten don't go to the Orange Bowl. That would pit the Yellow Jackets against No. 10 Michigan State because the committee would look to avoid a rematch with No. 9 Georgia.
Here's what New Year's Eve and New Year's Day could look like, based on today's rankings:
12:30 p.m. ET -- Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl -- No. 9 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor
4 p.m. ET -- VIZIO Fiesta Bowl -- No. 23 Boise State vs. No. 8 UCLA
8 p.m. ET -- Capital One Orange Bowl -- No. 16 Georgia Tech vs. No. 10 Michigan State
12:30 p.m. ET -- Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic -- No. 5 TCU vs. No. 6 Ohio State
5 p.m. ET -- Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual -- No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State
8:30 p.m. ET -- Allstate Sugar Bowl -- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
“The bottom line is we lost the most prized possession of this university’s football program …" Freeze said. “That’s the facts of it, and it should be enough motivation.”
To get back that coveted prize, Freeze will have to topple a team with College Football Playoff aspirations. The Rebels are hurting, but they're dangerous and have nothing to lose, while Mississippi State has all the pressure on its side.
The Rebels (8-3, 4-3 SEC) have a chance to ruin everything the fourth-ranked Bulldogs (10-1, 6-1) have worked so hard for. The Rebels understand that while their SEC and playoff hopes are gone, they can end Mississippi State’s same hopes Saturday afternoon.
“They’re trying to ruin our season," Mississippi State center Ben Beckwith said. "We’re the top dog in the state right now."
Ah, but one does not merely walk into the Egg Bowl and snatch the egg. Not with so much on the line for the guys in maroon, and the boys in blue looking for redemption. This game might not spark the rest of the country -- or even the Deep South -- like the Iron Bowl, but its hatred is palpable.
Families are divided. Friendships are damaged. Recruiting bitterness motivates guys, and bragging rights fuel that extra push. This is a yearlong rivalry that consumes a state that has no pro sports teams.
There’s a clock that ticks down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the Egg Bowl inside Mississippi State’s locker room. Freeze has family and friends on both sides. Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork even picks at Mississippi State fans on Twitter, and southern transplant Dan Mullen can count the number of times he has said the words “Ole Miss” on a couple of fingers.
“This is always the biggest game of the year for us,” said Mullen, who refers to Ole Miss only as "The School Up North."
“We’re going to get into a hostile environment," Mullen said. "I’ve heard that people in Oxford don’t like me very much. I don’t know, I’m a pretty nice guy. I’m sure they’ll have a lot of choice things to say to me. … This is a special week, this is what makes the game so much fun. I know for everyone in this state, this whole week is all about the Egg Bowl.”
Mississippi State fans think Ole Miss fans exude an annoying arrogance, while there’s a big-brother complex with Rebels fans. It’s blue collar vs. white collar.
Recruiting gets ugly, too. Ole Miss defensive end C.J. Johnson had to deal with Mississippi State fans alleging wild NCAA violations surrounding his recruitment. Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones received with death threats -- from both sides -- before and after he signed with the Bulldogs.
After winning in 2010, Mullen proudly proclaimed, “We’re never losing to this team again.” In 2012, video of Mullen saying that was looped on the video board inside Vaught-Heminway Stadium late in the Rebels’ 41-24 win.
“I’m ready to go back to Oxford and take care of business,” said Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who was there in 2012.
"It's the most important game of the year, especially them being 10-1," Ole Miss receiver Vince Sanders told members of the media this week. "They're going to come in after our performance last week and feel like it's an easy win. But I think our guys understand the importance of this game. … All the work we go through in the summer and spring, we worked for this game.
“Everybody will understand it."
In all honesty, these sides plain don’t like each other. There’s some respect, but not much love.
Beckwith, who grew up about 50 miles north of Oxford in Benton, Mississippi, but was never recruited by the Rebels, has friends on Ole Miss’ team and his brother actually went there for school, so there’s nothing personal, but …
“I just don’t like them,” Beckwith said of the Rebels. “I’ll be honest with you.”
And if his brother tries to cheer for Ole Miss?
“It’s kinda, ‘Hey, you can either cheer for me or you can get out of here,’” Beckwith said.
For Freeze, who grew up in the backyard of the rivalry in Independence, Mississippi, he chooses the respect route. He isn’t into name-calling, is fine with one of his best friends attending Mississippi State and is cordial with Mullen.
“I know this one is pretty intense and sometimes in my opinion it crosses the line to what is good and all of that,” Freeze said. “I want to beat them as bad as they want to beat us, particularly two days out of the year -- this Saturday and then national signing day. Those are the two days I feel that way. I feel that way all the time, but I don’t let it control my emotions. I wish it wasn’t that way."
It’s a game that is gaining national steam this season for all the right reasons, and there will be no shortage of motivation in Oxford.
"It's State,” Ole Miss linebacker DT Shackleford said. “I feel like if you can't get up for that, you probably don't need to be playing. It's everything. It's the Egg Bowl. It's Senior Day. If I have to motivate some people for next week, they probably shouldn't be playing."
The former Major League Baseball player and manager is the eighth winner of the award, which is given by the Heisman Trophy Trust. Torre will officially receive the award at the Heisman Memorial Trophy Gala on Dec. 15.
“While Joe’s accomplishments on the diamond are well known, his philanthropic endeavors off the field are at least equally impressive and laudable,” said William J. Dockery, the President of the Heisman Trophy Trust, in a release. “Joe has never forgotten where he came from and those less fortunate needing help.”
Torre, who was a nine-time All-Star as player and four-time World Series-winning manager, established the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation in 2002 along with his wife, Ali, as the result of the impact of domestic violence on Torre’s childhood.
“I am honored to be the recipient of the 2014 Heisman Humanitarian Award and to join such an esteemed group of past winners,” Torre said. “Most importantly, the Heisman Trust’s generous contribution will help the Safe at Home Foundation continue to provide hope and support for children from abusive homes.”
The foundation’s initial focus was to raise awareness of domestic violence during its first few years before opening a school-based program called Margaret’s Place, as tribute to Torre’s mom, at Hostos-Lincoln Academy in Bronx, New York, in 2005. Margaret’s Place is a program which provides students a safe room in school to meet with professional counselor trained in domestic violence intervention and prevention. The Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation currently has 10 Margaret’s Places in New York City, Los Angeles, Westchester County and New Jersey.
Former NFL and Florida State running back Warrick Dunn, former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and U.S. women’s soccer great Mia Hamm are among the previous winners of the Heisman Humanitarian Award.
Florida carried Ron Zook off the field in his final game, an upset that remains so memorable, people continue to point to that win 10 years later.
Especially this week.
Because everybody wants to know: Can the Gators win one for Champ, the way they won one for the Zooker?
The similarities between Zook’s last triumph over Florida State and the 2014 Gators headed into the Florida State game on Saturday are too similar to ignore.
Both Florida teams 6-4. Both heavy underdogs. Both playing for an outgoing coach.
“We were in the same position those guys are in this year,” said former Florida running back Ciatrick Fason, a captain on the 2004 team. “Our coach got fired. We hadn’t beaten them in Tallahassee in a very long time, so it made us want to go out there and play for Coach Zook but also win at Doak. It happened to be on the same day they were naming the field for coach (Bobby) Bowden, so we wanted to go up there and upset every celebration they had.”
In the days leading up to the game, nobody gave down-and-out Florida much of a chance against the No. 10 Seminoles. Florida State had one of the best defenses in the country and had shut down just about every running back that came its way.
But Florida believed it had nothing to lose. To the Gators, all the pressure belonged to Florida State.
“Nobody expected us to win, and that just mentally makes you feel like, ‘We can go out here and cut it loose. Don’t worry about mistakes. We can go for it on fourth-and-2 or fourth-and-3 because we’ve got nothing to lose and Florida State has everything to lose,’" Fason said. "As a Gator, we know we’re trying to keep them from get a national championship, and it being a rival game with nothing to lose that works to our advantage.”
Fason also believes the way Florida played in 2004 caught Florida State off guard. He ended up with 100 yards rushing in the game and was a big reason why the Gators won, saying the Seminoles were not prepared for their smash-mouth style.
After Florida took a 10-3 lead into halftime, Fason told his teammates he wanted them to carry Zook off the field if they ended up winning. They assembled around him in the final minute, a 20-13 win theirs to celebrate.
“As soon as that final tick went off the clock, everybody picked up Coach Zook,” Fason said. “It was the best moment of my life.”
And it still remains one of the top moments not only in Gators football history, but in Zook's career. Mike Degory, the starting center on the 2004 team, later coached with Zook at Illinois. Even there, Zook talked about the way the Gators won his final game there.
“He always used to say how much it meant to him, and how much he felt the commitment from the players was there,” Degory recalled. “Everybody knows after this week, Coach Muschamp is going to be looking for another job, but the players feel a lot of commitment to that coach. We wanted to send Coach Zook out a winner. What we had 10 years ago was a connection with Coach Zook. Deep down in my heart, that is the guy that I wanted to play for and we wanted to echo that by giving him that victory.”
Muschamp was even asked about it during his press conference earlier this week in Gainesville.
“That isn't going to help us win the game. I can assure you of that,” he said. “So we'll prepare well and we'll go up there and play well. That's what we need to do.”
Florida has a history of doing that under Muschamp. It was two years ago Florida went into Doak Campbell Stadium and forced five turnovers in a 37-26 win. Florida was a much better team then -- ranked higher than Florida State, in fact. But it also happens to be the last time the Seminoles lost.
Since then, Florida has not come close to another 11-win season, while Jimbo Fisher has won two ACC championships, one national championship and 27 straight games. But this season, Florida State has played in so many close games, the expectation is this will be another close one.
Especially if the Gators play as emotionally as they did for Zook in 2004.
“Emotion always counts, but I think at the end of the day, execution wins,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, we'll be emotional. To play Florida, our kids will be high. Our kids will be excited. I think you'll see two teams that are emotionally and physically ready to play, and then who can go out and execute and win the battles in the physical and mental execution will be the team that wins.”
With that in mind, plenty of teams are on Upset Watch in Week 14.
No. 18 Georgia Tech (9-2) at No. 10 Georgia (9-2), noon, SEC Network. Line: Georgia by 13. At first glance, this line appears to be rather large considering how well Georgia Tech is playing heading into the matchup. The Jackets have won four straight, beat No. 22 Clemson and had an entire off week to prepare. They nearly pulled the upset a year ago, and have a far better team this season. Then there is the matter of how Florida gashed Georgia on the ground. Georgia Tech has been so much more effective offensively with its triple option, if it hangs onto the ball and continues to eat chunks of time off the clock, the Jackets will have an excellent shot to win.
South Carolina (6-5) at No. 22 Clemson (8-3), noon, ESPN. Line: Clemson by 4.5. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has some weird voodoo going on over Clemson. Maybe he's just in their heads. How else to explain the turnover margin during the Gamecocks' five-game winning streak? South Carolina has turned it over three times; Clemson 15. That includes a whopping six Clemson turnovers a year ago. All those mistakes have ended in pretty miserable losses. Clemson has lost each game by double digits. Given the way South Carolina has played this season, all signs point to a Clemson breakthrough. But will the Tigers have Deshaun Watson available? If not, will Cole Stoudt do enough to break the losing streak?
NC State (6-5) at North Carolina (6-5), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: North Carolina by 6.5. The Tar Heels are riding high off an impressive 45-20 win against Duke, but now they face their second straight rivalry game against a Wolfpack team that had a week off to prepare. Though their run defense played much better, NC State will try to continue to exploit weaknesses in that group behind Matt Dayes and Shad Thornton. The bigger question is whether the NC State defense has enough to slow down the unstoppable Marquise Williams, who has put on quite the offensive show down the stretch. This one could end up being a shootout. If that happens, anyone can win.
Florida (6-4) at No. 3 Florida State (11-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: FSU by 7.5. You are going to hear a lot about what Ron Zook and the Gators did to the Seminoles in 2004. A few similarities are hard to ignore -- Florida had nothing to lose in that game in Tallahassee, the final one under Zook. Florida was 6-4 going into the game; Florida State was a top-10 team. They are all points to keep in mind, especially given the way Florida State has squeaked by its opponents this season. Outgoing Florida coach Will Muschamp handed Florida State its last lost. Maybe he has something up his sleeve to give the Noles another on his way out. Plus, strange things happen in this game the last few years it has ended in a "4" -- 1994, Choke at Doak; 2004, Zookered!; 2014 ???
* Note: There is no line for the Pitt-Miami game with James Conner's status up in the air. Considering Miami (6-5, 3-4) is the home team, the Canes need to be on high alert for a Pitt team (5-6, 3-4) that will be desperate to become bowl eligible. Especially given their abysmal performance last week in a loss to Virginia.
** Note II: The line for Virginia-Virginia Tech is even, so tough to put anybody on upset watch in that game. The over/under, however, is set at 40.5. I would take the under on that.
TEMPE and TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Territorial Cup isn't college football's most famous rivalry trophy, but it is the oldest, dating to 1899. Thirteen years later, Arizona achieved statehood.
The silver-plated cup, over a britannia base metal, goes to the winner of the Arizona-Arizona State football game each year. The cup has been in the desert for more than a century, but it didn't originate there -- it was manufactured in Taunton, Massachusetts.
Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez aren't from around here, either. Neither man had strong ties to the state or its universities before taking over programs at Arizona State and Arizona, respectively.
They brought fresh approaches from foreign soil, and they have boosted two programs dripping with potential into winners. Arizona and Arizona State both enter Friday's Territorial Cup with at least nine victories for the first time since 1975, when both schools were in the WAC. Friday's showdown at Arizona Stadium marks the first Territorial Cup since 1986 where both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25. The winner would claim the Pac-12 South if UCLA stumbles against Stanford on Friday at the Rose Bowl.
So how have two outsiders marked their territory in just three seasons? Aggressive, proven schemes have helped. So have strong assistants and shrewd recruiting.
But more than anything, Graham, a Texan, and Rodriguez, a West Virginian, are demanding coaches who have brought structure and diligence to programs that previously lacked those qualities.
"It's so different, it works."
Graham quickly points out that people retire in Florida, too, but he describes the program he inherited as "extremely undisciplined." ASU was the nation's most penalized team in 2011, the year before Graham arrived. The Sun Devils ranked 114th in penalties in 2010, last also in 2009 and 112th in 2008.
In Graham's first two seasons, ASU finished 10th and 24th nationally in fewest penalties per game. This season, the Sun Devils are 22nd and lead the Pac-12 in fewest flags by 13.
"No one on our team is going to get a personal foul," offensive lineman Christian Westerman said. "If a guy gets a personal foul in practice, he's pretty much going to sit out the rest of that practice. It's a stupid penalty, and that's how you lose football games.
To hammer home the point, ASU brought in Pac-12 officials during the offseason for an extensive rules tutorial. From targeting to intentional grounding, rules change each season, but Sun Devils players are adapting.
"Until you put that kind of emphasis on it, I don't think kids really respect how important it is," offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. "Everybody in the country preaches 'Don't get a penalty,' but unless your kids really believe in that and buy in to that, you'll probably get what you've always had."
Arizona also reduced its penalties total, rising from 114th in 2011 to 81st in Rodriguez's first year and 12th in 2013. Like ASU, the Wildcats don't beat themselves, ranking in the top 15 nationally in fewest turnovers lost and turnover margin this season.
The program's "Hard Edge" motto goes beyond the must-see clips on YouTube. It symbolizes the way Arizona plays, the type of player Rodriguez wants to recruit and the way the staff has had to recruit.
"Most of our connections are from the East Coast and Florida," co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith said. "When we came out here, we had to start from ground zero. You didn't know anybody. You had to go out and beat the pavement."
Arizona has made inroads both in the state and especially in California. The Wildcats' 2014 recruiting class ranked 23rd nationally, two spots below Arizona State's.
"We'd like to think we're appealing to anybody, but to think we're going to get 25 five-stars, it's not going to happen," Rodriguez said. "You've got to do a great job of evaluating and finding guys that fit what we want. We call them OKGs -- our kinda guys."
Wildcats sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright III is the ultimate OKG, a small-potatoes recruit whom Arizona identified before anyone and who leads the nation in tackles for loss and ranks fifth in sacks. He's the latest undervalued prospect to blossom under Rodriguez, who helped guide Pat White, Steve Slaton, Denard Robinson and others to stardom.
"It's almost like 'Moneyball,'" said Matt Dudek, Arizona's director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel. "I've got one, and no one else has him. Five-stars are great, but that means you're better at convincing your kid to come to your place.
"With this one, you found a diamond in the rough."
“Coaches have long considered both Arizona schools diamonds in the desert. Growing up in Alabama, Sun Devils tight ends coach Chip Long wondered why ASU couldn't be a national power. Norvell remembers the first time he saw Sun Devil Stadium, from the window seat of a plane landing at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport.
We'd like to think we're appealing to anybody, but to think we're going to get 25 five-stars, it's not going to happen. You've got to do a great job of evaluating and finding guys that fit what we want. We call them OKGs -- our kinda guys.” -- Rich Rodriguez
He marveled at the venue, nestled between mountain buttes.
"You always say, 'God, that ASU job is just a gold mine," said Chris Ball, Arizona State co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. "Why can't they win?"
Arizona State has no shortage of built-in advantages, but also challenges.
"You need discipline here," Ball said. "It's the largest school in the country. People come from all over the United States. There's a lot of distractions."
Graham's hard-driving style has resonated with players, and the results -- 27-11 overall, 19-7 in the Pac-12 -- are unassailable. ASU ranks fifth nationally in average turnover margin (plus-1.09 per game) and seventh in fewest giveaways (11).
"I really liked his discipline factor, how well he kept the program," said Westerman, a Chandler, Arizona, native, who transferred to ASU after two years at Auburn. "Coach Graham doesn't let anything slide."
Rodriguez also is demanding, and his track record -- four Big East titles, a 2006 Sugar Bowl win -- raised the bar for an Arizona program still seeking its first Rose Bowl appearance. After consecutive eight-win seasons, Rodriguez has the Wildcats still alive in the competitive Pac-12 South race.
"That kind of success, we all adapted to their style," safety Will Parks said. "It's bringing that energy, that East Coast swag over to the West Coast swag. It makes one whole big swag."
Arizona ranks third in the league in points allowed (24.6 PPG).
The Wildcats have been especially gritty on the road, stunning Oregon in September and crushing Utah on Saturday.
Rodriguez battled many things in his turbulent three-year run at Michigan, including entitlement, which he acknowledged both during and after his Wolverines tenure. His challenge at Arizona, which hasn't had more than eight victories since 1998, is teaching players how to win.
"These guys have been open to what we're teaching and what they're learning about football," offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. "It's been fun that [entitlement] has not been here."
Friday's game will be fun. In-state rivalries always are, and this one, while often overlooked, elicits strong emotions.
Arizonans will be locked into every play.
Thanks to the two outsiders walking the sidelines, so will the rest of the country.
A look at how the Badgers and Golden Gophers stack up: