The Sun Devils arrived at Arizona Stadium this year with victories over NAU, Illinois, Cal, Wazzu, Utah and Colorado and, dear God, had somehow qualified for a bowl game. Not a winner among 'em.
This didn't fool anybody. As with all Territorial Cup games, the fear and loathing among Wildcats began early Friday morning, on Facebook and Twitter, as some of the most pertinent ex-Wildcats rang in with not-so-subtle, beat-the-Devils proclamations.
Ronnie Veal, Charlie Camp, Jason Johnson, Jay Dobyns, Val Bichekas, Tony Neely, Nick Fineanganofo and Donnie Salum, among many others, Wildcats of the last 30 years, made it clear that losing to the Sun Devils was not, as usual, an option.
So you can imagine the tension at Arizona Stadium at halftime, ASU leading 14-9, when the UA's defense had conked out like a 99-cent flashlight, and nothing Rich Rodriguez sent in from the sideline seemed to work anymore.
Matt Scott's bid to become the school's first all-conference quarterback in a million years had gone off the tracks; he was 2 for 8 passing in the second quarter, with two interceptions. He had gone from stud to dud at the worst possible time.
It was an old and familiar pain; as with most Territorial Cups, the feelings are extreme, a wedding or a funeral, with nothing in between.
On Friday, with the way the Wildcats unraveled in the fourth quarter, it was decidedly funereal. ASU won 41-34. And you won't get a refund for those $82 seats, either.
At least the Wildcats made it entertaining when, unthinkably, Arizona's franchise player, tailback Ka'Deem Carey, was sitting on the bench, hurting, as ASU stretched its lead to 17-9.
It was at that time that I googled "Albuquerque Bowl," and I swear it said, "If you lose at home to a team with a rookie QB, a team that hasn't won a game against anybody (except NAU) with a winning record all year, we'll see you in Albuquerque on Dec. 15. Bring your winter gear."
There are worse fates in college football than playing a December game in Albuquerque. Sitting home in December is one of them. Remember 2011?
But in Tucson, nothing is dreaded more than losing to the Sun Devils, so you might say that Scott felt a bit of urgency when he returned to the field with 12:24 remaining in the third quarter.
Suddenly, without warning, Scott played the way he played to beat Oklahoma State, Washington and USC. Arizona led 27-17.
And then just as quickly, and as unexpectedly, the Sun Devils tied it at 27.
We've seen this so many times in these UA-ASU games. They make you laugh, then cry, then babble.
Didn't you just love it (at least for a while)? It's unlikely anyone will say they were bored.
If you lose to the Sun Devils, whether you are a UA fan or UA player, blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, at home, the score is forever wood-burned into your brain.
Ultimately, Arizona went from wait till this year to wait till next year, Chapter Forever.
If there's any good news, it's that the UA's most successful coaches of the last 50 years all failed to win their first game to ASU: Jim LaRue, Darrell Mudra, Jim Young, Tony Mason, Larry Smith and Dick Tomey. Zip.
The two who did beat ASU in their first crack, John Mackovic and Mike Stoops, found that, in the long run, it didn't mean much. It didn't help them keep their jobs.
When the Wildcats return to Arizona Stadium in August, against NAU, RichRod's castle will be fully occupied.
The North End Zone project, $72 million of keep-up-with-Oregon's ornaments, will be complete. Arizona Stadium will look and feel different for the first time since 1976, with artificial turf, enclosed seating and a big-league presentation.
That will soon blur Friday's loss to the Sun Devils.
Since Arizona Stadium's east side upper deck was added in 1976, Frank Kush was defrocked and the ASU mystique and superiority of the '60s and '70s overturned. Yes, the Sun Devils have gone to two Rose Bowls in those 36 seasons, but they did not become a powerhouse, they were not consistently good, their fan base eroded, and, over the 36-year period, Arizona won more games and did more with less.
So Friday's game wasn't a sad end to the regular season as much as it was a beginning.
Somehow, while rebuilding, Arizona went 7-5 and spent about a month in the national Top 25.
Arizona football starts over right now, with a coach it couldn't have touched under most circumstances, and, perhaps just as importantly, with a staff of pros who are neither deterred by recruiting reputations nor trying to hide what's behind the front door.
There is rarely any way to rationalize or reconcile a Territorial Cup loss. But if you try hard, just once, you might see that Arizona's future is a lot better than what it left on the turf Friday night.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or email@example.com