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Not In Mind

October 13, 2008

(at Stanford 24, UA 23)

I knew we werenít going to the Rose Bowl. I knew we werenít as good as any of the national statistical rankings indicated. I was realistic enough to be worried all week.

So why does it still hurt so much?

Itís the passionate fanís lament. No matter what history says, no matter how much logical evidence exists to the contrary, once the game begins you start to believe your team can winÖand itís really painful when they donít.

Never has a team had to work so hard to lose by one point. You had a mediocre opponent doing mediocre team things with the three turnovers. To overcome that our Wildcats needed the offense (only one touchdown against the worst pass defense in the league), the defense (allowing a third-string option quarterback to run for 7.8 yards per carry), and special teams (averaging just 15.5 yards per kickoff return while allowing 24.8) to work in unison.

I guessing when the players went to Fort Huachuca to focus on team-building, this isnít what they had in mind.

Please donít think this is an overreaction to one loss. Thereís a reason we said a 5-1 start was mandatory. We knew the schedule was back-loaded. We knew 4-2 could easily turn into 4-4. Then if you beat WSU, lose at Oregon, and Jacquizz runs all over you, youíre 5-6 and it all comes down to a do-or-die game with ASU. Again.

What cost us last year? New Mexico and Stanford. If we donít get where we need to be, what will have cost us this year? New Mexico and Stanford. What is it with Mike Stoops and the color red? If you include USCís cardinal and WSUís crimson, Stoops is now 3-10 against red-based teams. Does he get Oklahoma flashbacks and go into a jealous rage? Is he like un toro before el matador? Somebody get the man some dark sunglasses before the homecoming game.

At least now we know what weíve got. Or, more specifically, what we donít got. We arenít going to have a dream season. Weíre not going to take advantage of a very down Pac-10 and play in a high quality bowl. We have an average team that could be a little better than last year. Maybe.

Halfway through the season we still havenít beaten anyone we lost to last year, and we havenít lost to anyone we beat last year. The only difference between the two seasons thus far is Toledo at home instead of BYU on the road. That means the absolute ceiling for this team is 7-5. Iím guessing that isnít what they had in mind either.

So weíre down to two simple goals: 1. Get to a bowl. 2. Beat ASU.

Iím not saying that would make the season a success. Iím not saying it would be good enough to make us satisfied with the programís long-term direction. And, unfortunately, this loss almost certainly means weíll be having that uncomfortable discussion at yearís end.

No, achieving those two goals with this schedule wouldnít be a monumental task, but it would be better than anything weíve had in a long time so we may as well do it.

The postseason standards have been lowered with a seventh Pac-10 bowl entering the picture this year. That means all you need for 6-6 to be good enough is for three teams in the league to post losing records. The two Washington schools are a given. So we need to root really hard against ASU (tough, I know) and UCLA in hopes one of them loses three more games.

Then we somehow need our team to win twice more. If we beat WSU (and you have to include the ďifĒ since it is on the road) that leaves five games with four at home to get one win. One single win.

But whereís that win going to come from? You could easily argue the Pac-10 rankings look like this:

1. USC
2. Cal
3. Oregon
4. OSU (27-21 over USC)
5. ASU (41-17 over Stanford)
6. Stanford
9. Washington
10. WSU

Even if you want to shuffle the 4th through 6th picks, you have to put them all above Arizona, right? So win #6 would have to be an upset. You would hope weíre getting our one surprise win this year since weíve already gotten our two annual mind-boggling defeats.

Whatever you think, please donít disappear. Get the (justified) fan-anger out, modify your hopes, and keep supporting this team. If youíve got season tickets, use them. If youíre out-of-state watch this weekís game on TV. We do play well on offense at home. We usually play better against better teams. A win this week would make no sense, which is why itís entirely possible.

Continue to follow the games and celebrate our next win for the once-in-a-decade event it represents.

Even if itís not what you had in mind.

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