- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.
We've gone through the Pac-12 and picked out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.
And then we let you vote from a list of potential options.
Here's our last entry.
Most important game: Nov. 30 at Arizona State
Why it's important: Kevin already has written that this is Arizona State's "Most Important Game." I tend to agree, though, I think you could make a case for the Sun Devils game at UCLA on Nov. 23.
The Sun Devils visit to UCLA, while not a highly charged rivalry game, probably will play a bigger role in deciding the Pac-12's South Division than their hosting Arizona in the final regular-season game.
Of course, this Pac-12 blog series has required a lot of "What if?" thinking, often also asking for the suspension of pure emotions in favor of big picture thinking. And by "the suspension of pure emotions," I mean, for example, all the Arizona fans who already are fuming that their "Most Important Game" Pac-12 blog entry started off with two -- TWO! -- paragraphs that focused on those louts at Tempe Normal.
Two paragraphs on the Sun Devils! HIJACKING OUR ENTRY! Arrrraghhhh!
Let's put it this way: The 2013 Territorial Cup is bigger for Arizona than Arizona State, no matter that the expectations are higher for the Sun Devils next fall.
Arizona State won at Arizona last year, overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win, 41-34. That gave Todd Graham a 1-0 edge over Rich Rodriguez for the first-year head coaches in the rivalry game. Those old acquaintances do not have a particularly warm relationship, so they already fully "feel" the emotions of this rivalry.
If Graham improved to 2-0 versus Rich Rod, and then his Sun Devils advanced to the Pac-12 title game as the South Division champions, you could officially declare a small stagger had appeared between the programs. It wouldn't be irreversible by any means, but 730 days of gloating from your rival can be hard to stomach.
Let's start with an optimistic vision of Arizona's upcoming season.
The Wildcats pillow-soft nonconference slate means they will almost certainly start 3-0. Missing Stanford and Oregon State also is a boost in terms of scheduling degree of difficulty. If they answer questions at quarterback and on defense, this team could be a darkhorse contender in the South Division. Even though Arizona State, UCLA and USC are seen as the division favorites, the perceived distance between those three and the Wildcats is far from vast.
In fact, if things fall Arizona's way, the Territorial Cup could have South Division implications. Just imagine, Wildcats fans, how much fun it would be to not only win the South and earn a shot at the program's first Rose Bowl but also to dump the Sun Devils, who were widely viewed as division favorites in the preseason. And doing that in their own house, though that's not uncommon in a rivalry where the home team has lost four in a row.
The less optimistic vision of Arizona's upcoming season -- 7-5 looks like a good over-under for this team -- could be salvaged with a win over Arizona State, particularly if that knocks the Sun Devils out of the top spot in the division.
Even if the Sun Devils didn't need a Territorial Cup victory to win the South, Arizona State's enjoyment of its division title would be significantly watered down if they had to listen to crowing Wildcats fans:
Sparky: "We won the South!"
Wilbur: "Scoreboard, baby!"
The Pac-12 blog's ultimate hope is this rivalry game develops into a showdown of ranked teams. That way national attention could come to one of the nation's most underrated rivalries in terms of pure, unadulterated dislike.
Maybe that happens this year.
Or maybe I should write another paragraph about the Sun Devils?