Arizona Football is in an interesting place. Weíre no longer the worst team in the Pac-10, but the best team still seems a long way off.
Itís like a mid-standings crisis. Are you going to get off your butt and make something of yourself, or are you going to become just another bald guy with a beer gut?
Itís the question hanging over the Wildcat faithful as we prepare for the 2008 season. Which way are we going? Are we moving up, or do we have to move on?
It seems for every positive thereís an easy negative. This is the first time weíve started a senior quarterback in six years. But the last time we had one we finished in last place.
The offense returns nine starters. But last yearís defense returned ten starters.
Mike Stoops has had another year to grow as a head coach. But he still isn't even the winningest coach on his staff (Dana Dimel has 30 career wins).
If Stoops is going to close the gap on his tight ends coach, a big goal is getting back to winning close games. After a 2-1 record in í06 in games decided by a touchdown or less we regressed to 1-4 last year, including 0-3 in games decided by a field goal or less. If you canít at least break even youíre probably going to go broke.
Another goal is to make GRONK! a household name. All reports are that Rob Gronkowski has a better grasp of the offense and his role in it, which means if we feed him the ball he has the potential to become the Michael Phelps of tight ends. (Thatís right, Iím leading the parade to drive that reference into the ground.)
One more goal: Beat USC. Hereís the last time each Pac-10 team defeated the Trojans:
Stanford & Oregon Ė 2007
OSU & UCLA Ė 2006
Cal Ė 2003
WSU Ė 2002
Washington Ė 2001
Arizona Ė 2000
ASU Ė 1999
Itís time for Pete Carroll to relinquish ownership of the desert.
The fact that the USC game falls on the last weekend in October is an example of how nicely the season lays out for Arizona. You just could not draw up a better schedule for the Mike Stoops Wildcats. If there has been one consistent the last four years itís that we start slowly but get downright dangerous by yearís end.
That means itís good news that the three teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 are all in the back half of our schedule. Itís a good thing that we start the conference season with the teams predicted to finish 5th, 8th and 9th in the league.
On top of that you have the non-conference schedule. In the past five years we have faced two teams that went on to win nine games, a ten-win team, three 11-win teams, a 12-win team, AND a 13-win team. Thatís eight elite teams out of 16 possible games. Itís like the reciprocal of an SEC non-conference schedule. So if you see someone with an overly-large smile before the Idaho and Toledo games, itís going to be me.
A fast start is a huge key this year. If you own a bowl-less streak and you want to keep it from hitting double digits, you have to win your first two games. Have to have to HAVE TO. You have to beat a UCLA team so banged up at quarterback that Rick Neuheisel may have to suit up himself. You have to beat Washington at home. You have to win at least two of the road games at New Mexico, Stanford and WSU.
You read that right: Iím making a 5-1 start mandatory for reaching a bowl. Weíve proven the last two years how hard it is to make up ground when you blow winnable games early on. So we need to match last yearís win total by mid-October. Then you beat Washington State which leaves you with three games (two at home) to try and win that elusive number on Willie Tuitamaís back.
But is that good enough? Is it enough if a 5-7 team uses an easier schedule and an extra home game to become a 7-6 team? Even after nine years without a winning season?
Thatís what each of us has to ask as we set our individual Line Of Agonizing Disappointment. For me personally, seven wins will be enoughÖIF we beat ASU and win a bowl game. Thatís right, Iím raising the bar just a bit from last year. I think if you play at last yearís level with this yearís schedule you end up with one more win. And for this particular fan to be satisfied the program needs to show indisputable improvement.
Itís Year 5 of the Stoops Era. Weíve got an experienced offense with a dynamic system led by a record-setting senior signal-caller. And weíve got a lot of warm-up games. Itís time.
My season tickets arrived in the mail on 08-08-08. May they represent 08 wins.
You know, just like that Phelps guy.
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