August 28, 2005
by Scott Terrell
A new season calls for a new feature here at UASports.net so I'm going to be writing a weekly column in this here space. The plan is to have something waiting for you each Monday morning. There aren't going to be many X's and O's because, let's face it, most of you know more about football than I do. There isn't going to be any insider information because, well, if McKale is the center of Wildcat knowledge, my sources are hanging out at the Picacho Peak Dairy Queen.
I'm not an expert on much of anything so I won't pretend to be. I will do some research from time to time, thanks to my brand new media guide and the good ol' Internet. There will be a little bit of game commentary and a lot of bad jokes. Most of all, this will be a first-person report on the glorious roller coaster ride that is University of Arizona fandom. Buckle up and let's have some fun!
This is the perfect time of year, because everybody's football team is perfect. Undefeated. Tied for first place. Controlling your own destiny for the championship.
Hopes are high and the predictions are flying. The blind optimists think a 5-8 walk-on is going to win the Heisman. The raving pessimists think the entire offensive line is going to be stricken with Polio. The rest of us fall somewhere in between.
Expectation is a tricky thing. Anybody can say they hope we have a great year. But what do you expect? How many wins would it take to leave you smiling all offseason? And, most importantly, where do you draw the Line Of Agonizing Disappointment? What's the minimum number of wins needed to prevent you from feeling like the team underachieved?
The Football Wildcats of the past half-decade-plus have lived below the Line Of Agonizing Disappointment. They've been down there so long they've established residency and are now getting jury summons. It's not a good place to be.
But things are changing. For the first time in six seasons, the 2004 Wildcats won more games than the previous year. However, one season does not a trend make.
The catch is, you can't lie to yourself. You can't just pretend Mackovic is still here, predict two wins and be "shocked" when the Cats "overachieve" every year. Deep down you have a feeling about how good (or bad) the team will be this year. You have an honest opinion about a realistic range of win-loss records. The bottom of that range is your personal Line. If the Cats meet or beat your expectations, you're a happy fan. You honestly feel good about the season and you happily start counting down the days to 2006. But if the team doesn't win as many games as you thought they would, you feel bad. You feel let down. You play "what if" and "if only" for nine months until the Wildcats take the field again.
So where's my Line Of Agonizing Disappointment? A man's LOAD should not be rushed. It should be handled with care and only released at the proper time. That time is now.
Unless you're the previously-mentioned pessimist who frets about players' immunization records, you have to think we're going to be better than last year. The head coach and both coordinators are back. We have returning starters all over the place, and one of them is actually the quarterback. This year's recruiting class was ranked even higher than last year's well-regarded class, so the overall talent pool should be deeper. The entire squad has had another year of Stoops-intense strength and conditioning. Logic says this all spells good news.
If a player's biggest improvement is from his freshman to sophomore year, that should apply to rookie coaching staffs, right? The entire program should be more comfortable, more confident, and more productive…right?
That gives us at least four wins. If you honestly expect fewer than that, and you don't have a really good reason, I'm guessing you have a Masochists Anonymous card hidden in your wallet somewhere.
On top of general improvement from Year One to Year Two, you had to like what you saw out of our defense last year. The aggression was back. Hard-hitting Arizona Football had returned. In those last three games-even against mighty USC-we were turning people over. When you realize we bring the entire starting secondary back, with talented depth all over the field, your heart starts to race. Defense is what the Stoops Brothers do best! Defense wins championships! Can we make a monster jump this year? Should I be expecting nothing less than…hold me please…a winning season?!
But then you read that we've been given an undesirable #1 ranking. CBS Sportsline is saying Arizona has the toughest schedule in the nation. Numero Uno. Nobody tienen games mas harder.
So you look again. There are four ranked teams on our itinerary, including three straight before we play our first conference home game. We play seven bowl teams from last year including two teams that haven't lost since before Lindsay Lohan turned legal. Egads.
So gimme five. Five wins. That's my LOAD. If we only improve by one win over 2004 I'll feel like we aren't moving fast enough. If we end up in a bowl game I'll probably get blisters from hugging people. If we finish at exactly 5-6 it means we either won our final game for the second consecutive year, or we went into the rivalry game with a shot at bowl eligibility, and either way I'd be satisfied with Year 2 of the Stoops Era.
But look out for Year 3. That's when we go a little LOAD crazy.
Has there ever been a more unexpectedly puzzling season opener than this one? Usually when 3-8 takes on 12-0 on the road there are no questions. You just take your beating, say thank you, and enjoy your complimentary soft drinks on the flight home. But after going undefeated last year, Utah went through the college version of a fire sale. The entire Ute offense is one big question mark. New coach, new scheme, new quarterback, new receivers. They could be an unpredictable, high-powered machine (like they were last year), or they could be confused, outmatched and overwhelmed (like, well, we were last year). Nobody knows. And we get to be the first team to find out.
Because of that, my one key for the Utah game is our defensive line. If we can pressure the Utes' rookie QB with our front four, I'm confident our secondary will make some big plays, maybe even a pick-six. But if we can't get a push up front and Utah can control the ball on the ground and give their passer time to find the open man, you have to like the defending Fiesta Bowl champs' odds at home.
The best news is, we won't have to wait much longer to find out.
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