TEMPE, AZ - In a few days, this column might be moot; the Wildcats could very well lose at lowly Colorado on Saturday.
But until then, I invite you to dream a little Territorial Cup dream with me.
Taking a glimpse at each team's remaining schedule, there's a reasonable chance that this year's ASU-UA game in Tempe on Nov. 30 could be a showdown for the Pac-12 South championship.
Farfetched? Sure. Impossible? No.
Here's how it could play out:
The Sun Devils, which currently lead the South with a 3-1 conference record and are fresh off a blowout victory over No. 20 Washington, win their first road game of the season by dismantling Washington State on Halloween. Nine days later, they win a close road game against a Utah team that is formidable at home.
Riding high on a four-game winning streak, the Devils stumble when they come back home against upstart Oregon State – perhaps looking a week ahead to their matchup at UCLA – and lose in a 41-38 shootout.
The team regroups in the following days. Coach Todd Graham brings back former ASU greats to remind the team what it means to be a Sun Devil, and the opportunity that lies in front of them.
The Devils respond to the challenge. Quarterback Taylor Kelly‘s mistake-free performance and freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez‘s field goal in the final minute puts ASU ahead, 24-21. Defensive lineman Will Sutton sacks Bruins QB Brett Hundley on the game's final play.
The Devils take a 6-2 conference record into Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, in Tucson…
UA quarterback B.J. Denker, who has seven touchdowns (five passing, two rushing) and zero turnovers in his last two games, is once again turnover-free as the Wildcats, just 1-2 in the conference heading into the game, take care of business at Colorado.
The following week, the visiting Cats stumble out of the gate but churn out a late comeback to defeat Cal, as Denker throws a pair of fourth-quarter TDs to give UA a 21-20 win.
A road-tested Wildcat team then comes home to face UCLA in front of a packed, rowdy Homecoming crowd. Remembering last year's embarrassing 66-10 loss in LA, the improved Wildcat defense is charged up, chasing Hundley out of the pocket all day and forcing him into mistakes, while star Wildcat running back Ka'Deem Carey rushes for over 200 yards, and the home team pulls off a 24-17 upset.
The Wildcats ride the wave into next week's home game against Washington State, taking care of business in an easy victory. They move into the BCS Top 25 before crashing to Earth the following week, suffering a 55-14 rout at home against Oregon.
Nonetheless, the Wildcats are a healthy 8-3 overall and 5-3 in the conference as they head to Tempe.
On Nov. 24, the Pac-12 South standings look like this:
That brings us to Nov. 30 when, for the first time all season, all 71,000-plus seats are filled at Sun Devil Stadium – about 10,000 of them occupied by red-clad Wildcat fans.
The atmosphere in the minutes leading to kickoff is nothing short of electric – and for the first time in years, it's not just because the Duel in the Desert happens to be one of the nation's most heated rivalry games with a nasty on- and off-field history.
No, this time, the ASU-UA winner won't just claim the Territorial Cup; it will claim its first Pac-12 South championship and earn a chance to face the North champion for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. It's a game that hasn't meant this much since 1975 – when No. 8 ASU rallied to defeat No. 12 UA 24-21 at Sun Devil Stadium – and for 3 1/2 hours, it will be a game that the entire nation will be watching.
Farfetched? Yep. Impossible? Hardly.
Yes, there's a real chance that this Duel in the Desert dream may be squashed by Saturday night.
But until then: dream with me, won't you?