- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Welcome back to the road trip. It's been a fun, crazy few months, but it has to come to an end. Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.
Friday, Nov. 23
Utah at Colorado
Washington at Washington State
Arizona State at Arizona
Saturday, Nov. 24
Notre Dame at USC
Oregon at Oregon State
Stanford at UCLA
My choice: Arizona State at Arizona
Why: Tough choices this week with some great rivalry games on the docket. There's the pageantry of USC and Notre Dame, Mike Leach's first taste of apples and the Ducks try to make it five straight in the Civil War.
But the most intriguing game of the week is in Arizona. We traveled to the state in Week 9 to see Arizona State host UCLA, but this is our first trek of the year to Tucson.
This is a critical game for both teams for a myriad of reasons. Since their respective hirings, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Todd Graham at Arizona State have scrambled to lay stakes across the Copper State. Aside from California, Arizona is one of the conference's heaviest battle grounds for recruits and priority No. 1 for both coaches has been to establish their ties in the state. But we all know nothing sells a program better than beating the in-state rival.
While a lot of the other teams in the conference will be using this week to better their bowl positions, it's possible that both of these schools could be straddling the postseason fence and this game could make or break Christmas plans. Wouldn't that make for a fantastic storyline if both needed a win to get to a bowl game?
Both are experiencing major program overhauls across the board -- including how they do things on and off the field -- and you'd hope that by the final week of the season, each team will have a strong grasp of what they are trying to do. This will be a great measuring stick game to see how much progress each program has made under their new head coach.
Rodriguez and Graham will be both be given a little bit of a grace period to turn things around at their schools -- except for this game. There are no grace periods when it comes to rivalries. The winner takes a big step forward in not only winning favor with their fan base, but also establishing themselves as the favorable in-state program.
For the record, the Apple Cup was a very, very close second. Washington State might need this game to gain bowl eligibility and Washington is one of those previously-mentioned teams looking to improve its standing. Much like Arizona, Washington is a big feeder state to the conference. And while Steve Sarkisian has had a few years to entrench himself, Leach and his offense bring an exciting dimension to this game. Two or three years from now, this might be the most exciting rivalry in the conference.
You can see the complete road trip here.
39mChantel Jennings and David Lombardi