Here are three things to watch in the Arizona Wildcats’ season finale at Arizona State (Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:
1. TATE’S FAREWELL
For most of the past two-plus seasons, you never knew what you’d get from mercurial UA quarterback Khalil Tate. But he invariably ended up in the top spot among our three things to watch, so it was only fitting to slot him here one last time. Per usual, there are many unanswered questions: Will Tate start? How much will he play? How much of an impact can he have? Kevin Sumlin indicated early in the week that the starting assignment again would be based on practice performance, which has led to freshman Grant Gunnell starting each of the past two weeks. Many were puzzled – even rankled – that Tate didn’t start on senior night vs. Utah. An internal matter, the details of which I’m not at liberty to disclose, might have had something to do with that decision. Assuming that issue is in the rearview mirror, it would be nice to see Tate start and play a meaty role. Anything less would feel unsatisfying … yet at the same time apropos. Tate’s fall from Heisman Trophy candidate to part-time player remains one of the most baffling developments in college football in recent memory. It’s a topic too complicated and too nuanced to adequately address here. Rest assured, we’ll explore it in great detail sometime in the not-too-distant future.
2. TAYLOR’S FAREWELL
In the 2019 finale of “Cats Stats,” I broke down Arizona’s collapses in the past two Territorial Cup matchups. J.J. Taylor was a key figure in both – but predominantly served as an innocent bystander. Taylor technically was charged with a fumble in last year’s game, but it wasn’t his fault that the Wildcats lost either of them. It was only because Taylor was so trusted that he got the ball in situations where the coaching staffs wanted to protect it. When Rich Rodriguez became too conservative late in the first half in 2017, he handed the ball to Taylor three straight times. When Kevin Sumlin became too conservative early in the fourth quarter last year, he handed the ball to Taylor six straight times. Two offensive series later, Taylor and Tate messed up a handoff. The official play-by-play credited the fumble to Taylor – his fifth lost fumble of the season. You know how many he has this year? Zero. That’s a credit to DeMarco Murray’s coaching and Taylor’s diligence. He has been a pro’s pro since he arrived on campus – a determined, hard-working, widely respected leader by example – and he deserves a positive lasting memory from the Territorial Cup.
3. HERO’S EMERGENCE?
Tate and Taylor are the big names. It’s often someone you don't see coming who makes a key play or has a huge game in this rivalry. I’ve covered three Territorial Cups. In the lone UA victory, Samaji Grant was the Wildcats’ leading ball-carrier and touchdown scorer. What’s significant about that? Grant was a wide receiver for the first 42 games of his career before injuries forced him to play tailback in the final five. What relatively unsung player might emerge as a hero in an Arizona upset this year? Could it be tailback Gary Brightwell, Taylor’s backup, who’s as explosive as anyone when healthy? Could it be receiver Cedric Peterson, another loyal soldier who has yet to have his signature moment? Could it be defensive end Jalen Harris, the legacy kid who leads the team in sacks but has been a non-factor too often this season? Could it be linebacker Anthony Pandy, who has become just as prominent a playmaker as fellow LBs Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II? Could it be one of the freshman cornerbacks, Christian Roland-Wallace and Bobby Wolfe, who look like future fixtures in the secondary? The Wildcats are overdue for something unusual to happen in their favor. They haven’t had a defensive or special-teams touchdown all year. Just sayin’.
FINAL SCORE: ASU 31, Arizona 27
Territorial Cup history: 40 years ago, Brett Weber — Arizona's freshman, walk-on kicker — made the most of his second chance