A winless November cost the Arizona Wildcats a top-tier bowl game, a national ranking and countless fans.
But all will be forgiven if the reeling Wildcats can defeat rival Arizona State in tonight's Territorial Cup showdown at Arizona Stadium. A once-promising season can be redeemed as something positive and productive, even though the UA will finish third in the Pac-10 and out of Rose Bowl contention.
"There's a lot of goals we wanted to obtain. Some we didn't," coach Mike Stoops said. "But this has always been a goal of ours, to beat Arizona State. It will always be a goal, regardless of whoever the head coach is here. We understand the significance."
This year's Territorial Cup game comes with a victory bonus. Arizona (7-4 overall, 4-4 Pac-10) would receive a bid to the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl if it can defeat its rival and Stanford earns a spot in a Bowl Championship Series game.
With a win, the Wildcats can match last season's win total and establish further dominance in a series marked as much by streaks as by hatred. The UA has won its last two Territorial Cup games; a third would mark the program's longest run of success since 1993 to 1995.
Stoops can improve to 4-3 against ASU - a big deal to many even if the fiery coach downplays its meaning.
ASU won 2005 to 2007, keeping UA out of the postseason twice.
"They were kicking our butts for a while," left tackle Adam Grant said. "Now we want to see a three-peat."
Arizona State (5-6, 3-5) comes to Tucson sporting a new starting quarterback (Brock Osweiler), a dominant defensive player (linebacker Vontaze Burfict) and a swagger not seen since coach Dennis Erickson took the team to a Holiday Bowl in 2007. The Sun Devils are desperate and dangerous, a scary combination for a UA team suffering a three-game losing streak.
Osweiler threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns against UCLA on Friday in relief of Steven Threet. Erickson named Osweilier the starter Monday.
"Coming off the bench and starting now is a little different game," Erickson said. "He's stayed on top of things when he was the backup - the old 'one-play-away' trick. He really focused on what he needed to do."
Arizona can slow whatever momentum the Devils have by getting to the 6-foot-8-inch Osweiler, who once committed to play basketball at Gonzaga.
It won't be easy: The UA hasn't registered a sack since defeating UCLA on Oct. 30.
And, like Arizona, ASU has a bowl game - or at least the faint prospect of one - on the line. While the Devils are optimistic, UA remains "frustrated and determined at the same time," Stoops said.
Today, the Wildcats can be redeemed.
"We have to go out there and compete for 60 minutes to win a rivalry game," Stoops said.
• What: Arizona State at Arizona
• When: 6 p.m.
• TV, radio: ESPN, 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)
Arizona's pass rush, a key to its 7-1 start, has gone missing:
Arizona's total sacks through its first eight games, including eight by Ricky Elmore (right)
Arizona's sacks in its last three games, all losses (Stanford, USC and Oregon)
WRIGHT RETURNS, BUT PLAYING STATUS UNKNOWN
Wide receiver Bug Wright took part in scout-team drills this week, ending a two-week suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Whether he'll play tonight against Arizona State remains uncertain.
Coach Mike Stoops said earlier this week that Wright, who was suspended after Arizona's Nov. 13 loss to USC, would be out until coaches changed their minds.
When healthy and playing, Wright - a 5-9, 175-pound junior from Tatums, Okla. - is a valuable weapon who has 25 catches for 294 yards and two TDs.