Graham, Rodriguez face first desert duel

First-year coaches Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez face off Friday in the Territorial Cup. US Presswire, AP Photo

There are two coaching approaches these days when it comes to preparing for rivalry games.

The new school -- Chip Kelly school, really -- preaches that every game is important and that rivalry games are only hyped up for fans, not about coaches and players.

The old school -- the Woody Hayes school -- preaches that a great season is ruined by a loss to a rival and a bad season is transformed by a victory.itroial

It seems appropriate then that the Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State, which the Pac-12 blog believes is one of the nation's most underrated in terms or pure bitterness, would feature two first-year coaches that represent these opposing approaches.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is new school.

“We prepare for every game with the same focus and intensity, and we’ll be doing the same against Arizona State," he said. "After I got hired, I heard about the rivalry from all the fans and alumni during the offseason. We’re really just treating this game like any other game, but of course, there will be a lot more attention because of the rivalry.”

Arizona State coach Todd Graham is old school.

“It is the biggest game of the year, every year," he said. "It is about Arizona State University winning the Territorial Cup. That’s it.”

Part of Graham's approach can be traced his his friendship/mentorship with Sun Devils legend Frank Kush, whose name is probably in the many dictionaries next to the term "old school."

"[Kush] has let me know, just like everybody else, that you can be 11-0 and if you don’t win this game, you have had an unsuccessful season," Graham said. "This is what college football is all about, rivalry games. Nothing has more passion than this one. I know, hands down, that to our fan base -- to the Sun Devil Nation -- that this means the most to them and we are working hard to represent them.”

Further, there's history between Rodriguez and Graham. They coached against each other in the 1993 NAIA national championship game, and Graham briefly worked for Rodriguez at West Virginia.

There is no public evidence that these guys detest each other. But the Pac-12 blog feels comfortable telling you their relationship isn't exactly warm, and that isn't exclusively based on their fans really, really not liking each other.

Each was asked about the other this week. Here are their responses from the official news conference transcripts.

Rodriguez: “We saw each other at a couple events up in Phoenix. I don’t have a whole lot of interaction with a lot of people other than the people who I work with every day. It is just the way that the coaching profession is. I hired him at West Virginia because I knew him from the recruiting trail. We were also starting something new at West Virginia, and he did a good job. After two years, he moved on and started to become a head coach shortly after that.”

Graham: “We knew each other from competing against each other in 1993 when we played for the National Championship, when he coached at Glenville State and I was at East Central. I also worked there [at West Virginia] for a brief time, but that is it.”

Doesn't sound like they will go camping together anytime soon, eh?

It would be fair to say that the Sun Devils are much better on defense than the Wildcats, but the Wildcats offense has often appeared unstoppable, other than a lost trip to Eugene, Ore. Arizona's Matt Scott is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, while running back Ka'Deem Carey is trying to win the national rushing title.

Graham has no problem praising Carey.

"He is as good as there is," he said. "He is, no question, the guy you have to stop and it is a tall order to do that. Not many people have even come close."

Of course, Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly & Co. have been pretty darn good this year averaging 36 points a game. The Wildcats defense gives up 33.6 points and 488 yards per game. So this one might be a high-scoring affair.

Just another game? Well, that's very new school, but don't expect it to feel like that tonight in Tucson.