September 5, 2005
(at Utah 27, UA 24)
Well, there goes the National Championship.
It was an interesting Friday night. From my simple point of view it went something like this:
(Pregame) "Wait, both ESPN GameDay guys picked us to win?? Are we sexy again?"
(Opening kickoff) "Ooo-la-la, white pants! The new unis look sharp from the front, but I don't like the wings of color by the knees and I'm not a fan of the 'belt' in back at all. Why is it pointed? Did we just lose our sexiness again?"
(First set of possessions) "We are the greatest defensive team in all the land! Mike Bell cannot be stopped! What's a good taunting word that rhymes with 'Ute'?"
(End of 1st Quarter) "Why are we only ahead 3-0? If I have to waste all these taunts I'll be really upset."
(Halftime) "Still only three points. The new offense is about as successful as New Coke."
(Start of 3rd Quarter) "An 80-yard touchdown drive! We're tied!! We're a brand new-"
(About 3 seconds later) "We're losing again. My head hurts."
(Late in 3rd Quarter) "We're down 17 points. That's about 2.5 games worth for this team. Can we fast forward to 2006?"
(Early in 4th Quarter) "We're only down three! Stoops' manhood is the size of Kitt Peak! We cannot be stopped!!"
And then we were stopped. An extra helping of despair for everybody. One down, ten more life-shortening games to go.
A couple other game thoughts: When did Mike Bell become a professional wrestler? One minute he's writhing on the ground like they're going to have to amputate something, and the next minute he's carrying it up the middle for five yards. I don't think Hulk Hogan in his prime bounced back this quickly.
At the moment it appears we have three players who can get open, catch the ball, and do something with it. The only problem is they're two Smurfs and The World's Smallest Tight End. Does the Pac-10 have an Arena League?
Yet another loss. Here we go again, right? Not exactly. Going 0-1 is actually new territory for us. We had won five straight season openers since the Penn State game. (If you had to stop and think about the last time we lost our first game, I applaud your brain's exceptional ability to repress damaging memories.)
That's right, John Mackovic was 3-0 in season openers (San Diego State, NAU, UTEP). Let that sink in for a moment. He only won ten total games here. Thirty percent of Mackovic's wins came in the first nine percent of the schedule. Talk about premature celebration.
So if you're a cosmic sports fan, maybe losing to Utah is a good thing. It was a season-starting road loss on national TV that sent us tumbling into the football abyss, so maybe another season-starting road loss on national TV signals the dark ages are over. Works for me.
On that note, the Arizona Football Online Optimists League is now in session. AFOOL has predicted a winning record for about, oh, six years and counting. But if AFOOL listened to reason, he wouldn't be AFOOL now would he?
Why is this year different? Why would a sane individual quietly begin budgeting for bowl tickets?
Here are the stone cold facts: We can go to a bowl game in 2005 without winning a road game AND without beating a team that finished 2004 ranked AND without beating the top three teams in the Pac-10 last year.
NAU, Purdue, Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, and Washington. That's our home schedule. Of the six, only Purdue had a winning record last year, and they were merely 7-5.
Do we want to bank on running the table at home? Probably not a good idea. Purdue returns their whole defense and is ranked in the preseason top 25. Oregon has a senior quarterback and should be much improved. Our band still plays Oingo Boingo.
The point is, this isn't 2003 when two National Champions came to town. We've got home games we can win for a change. Stanford is back on the schedule and Washington hasn't left. I think Mike Bell knows a thing or two about eluding Huskies in Arizona Stadium. The trick however will be to survive until those winnable games come along.
Unless we get the early-season upset we so desperately crave, the key to the season will be improving even if we lose. The coaches and leaders on this team can't let the troops get down even if we start 1-4. If we continue to work hard and improve through any additional early season losses, we could win games in the second half of the year. A lot of games. A Las Vegas Bowl fruit basket worth of games.
If we make it over the early bumps intact, what starts out looking like a jalopy may end up as a smooth ride that takes us out of town for the holidays.
The must-win games are NAU, Stanford and Washington. If we don't win those three, we can turn in our bowling shoes. Even if you don't count on winning at Cal or USC, that leaves five games to try and get three wins. Purdue, Oregon, at Oregon State, UCLA, at ASU. Going 3-2 against that lineup certainly wouldn't require something impossible like the earth stopping on its axis or Anna Nicole passing up a chance to be on TV.
So even though we lost to Utah, the good news is we have NAU this week, then after that we basically have three games to try and get one win. The plan is to get two wins in the first five games and four wins on the back six.
That means we have to get fired up for the Lumberjacks. After that, we need to get pumped for Purdue. Lather, rinse, repeat, until Troy is in our rearview mirrors.
Then, if we do end up with the dreaded 1-4 start, we'll just have to face the facts and lower our expectations a bit. The captain will have turned on the No Bowling sign and we'll have to return our stadium seats to their full uptight and mocked positions.
At that point there should be no bowl talk until/unless we get to four wins. If/when that happens I'll get out my fingers and toes and count the remaining games. If I count two or higher, it's time to go nuts with optimism again. Otherwise we once again wait for our old friend Next Year.
The bulk of our wins, however many or few they are, will come in the latter half of the season. We'll have to be at our best from the Ides of October on. It'll just make the story all the more dramatic when we go on a big roll and conquer a string of foes on our way to El Dorado de Football. It can be done.
AFOOL would have it no other way.
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