Reflection

August 20, 2006


They say you can't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been. Where is Arizona Football going in 2006? Let's take a look back to try and find out.

Before the 2005 season began, everyone-myself included-bemoaned yet another tough schedule. We complained about bad luck and unfairness, but at the same time it was like a built-in excuse. Yeah, we're predicting a big turnaround, but if it doesn't happen it's obviously because the schedule was so hard.

Last year's schedule turned out to be easier than expected, which made the season worse than expected. Instead of one easy game (NAU), one hard-but-winnable game (Utah) and one really tough game (Purdue), we started with what would've been three wins for a good team. In hindsight the coveted 3-0 non-conference record was there for the taking.

Utah entered 2005 coming off an undefeated season and riding a 16-game winning streak. They finished the year at 7-5. Both San Diego State and New Mexico won in Salt Lake City, while Arizona did not. Ouch.

Purdue was ranked #12 when we saw them and were being talked up as a Big Ten contender. They lost 6 consecutive games after playing us and finished with a losing record. Zoinks.

This should have been the perfect schedule for a rebuilding team: Average-to-poor teams with overrated images. All the glory of giant slaying while only having to topple a six-foot foe. The problem is, we still weren't rebuilt.

The problem the last couple years was that this team just could not win the close games. Mike Stoops had the unfortunate distinction of losing his first three games decided by 3 points or fewer and he started his coaching career with a 1-6 record in games decided by a touchdown or less.

In 2004 we had the Wisconsin game (Pain in the Rain) and the Washington State game (Hold On To The Ball!!!). We ended the year by beating ASU in a close one and thought it would springboard us into 2005. Not quite.

We had the pick-six at Utah, the muffed punt against Purdue and fumbled away both the Stanford and Oregon games. Four losses by a total of 21 points.

We finally broke through to win by a deuce at Oregon State, followed by the glorious UCLA game. Everyone thought the good times were here to stay. Willie Tuitama was undefeated as a starter and just a few credits shy of earning his savior's degree. You couldn't blame the kid if he had a head as big as fitness celebrity John Basedow.

But then we laid an egg against Washington and ended the season by losing yet another close game and now we're back to searching for answers. At least we can put one theory to rest. Many of us have been under the impression that all we needed was one solid win and that would flip the switch and start the UA steamroller. But now it's clear that's not how things work.

Winning doesn't make you better. Winning is the result of being better.

Maybe instead of turning the corner we should be talking about climbing the stairs. Oregon State was a step. UCLA was a two or three steps. But then we fell down and slid about five steps. Will we finally have strong enough legs under us to improve the view in 2006?

The 2004 season produced 3 wins and 2 shouldas (the aforementioned Wisconsin and WSU games). 2005 had 3 wins, 2 shouldas (Stanford and ASU) and 3 couldas (Utah, Purdue, and Oregon). Washington coulda been a shoulda, but our performance smelled like Gouda.

The best news about the new nine-game complete-round-robin Pac-10 format is it puts an end to our hideous string of scheduling bad luck. Stanford posted a combined Pac-10 record of 4-12 in 2003 and 2004 when we didn't play them, only to bounce back to 4-4 in league play once they returned to our schedule. The team we missed last year? Washington State and its 1-7 record.

The bad news is we're on our own for avoiding the out of conference misfortune. We've had an uncanny ability to schedule teams just in time for their greatest year ever (see 13-1 LSU in 2003 and 12-0 Utah in 2004). It has been a pretty simple formula: Play Arizona, make history.

So when we see BYU on the schedule it makes you want to buy stock in the Cougars. Four wins in 2003, 5 in 2004 and 6 last year. Yep, adding us to their 2006 slate probably guarantees they'll explode for at least 10 wins this year.

A couple weeks after that we have Stephen F. Austin. Last year we played Sam Houston in basketball, and we just learned Davy Crockett put a curse on us. Maybe the A on our helmets stands for Alamo.

Our opponents in Weeks 2 and 4 won't need to burst onto the scene because they're already there. LSU and USC are in everybody's Top 10 and a whole bunch of Top 5's. The bad news is we could get blown out twice before the end of September. The good news is we have two opportunities to get our huge upsets out of the way early this year.

But let's not get carried away just yet. In fact, to keep things simple, I'm going to look at one stat this year: turnovers. It's not athletic rocket science, but if we're going to be better than last year we need to take it away more and give it away less.

In 2005 we recovered 7 fumbles and intercepted 12 passes for a total of 19 turnovers gained. We lost 12 fumbles and threw 16 picks for a total of 28 turnovers lost. That -9 margin (or -0.82 a game) ranked us 105th in the nation last year. Get the turnovers turned around and our Saturdays will turn out a lot better.

One individual record to keep an eye on this year is touchdown passes in a season. The school mark is a measly 20 (set by Marc Reed in 1966), and Willie threw for 9 in just 5 games last year. We're hoping to feature a vastly improved running game this year but the deep ball will still be a major factor in the Arizona offense as well as play action in the red zone. Look for #7 to be #1 at the end of the season.

So here we go again. Another autumn of excitement, anxiety and-quite possibly-more frustration. Why on earth do we devote ourselves to an entity that delivers nothing but disappointment?

The idea of loving trivial things that bring us pain starts at a young age. In youth you quickly learn that trying to cooperate in any sort of activity is a continuing cycle of good intentions and bad results. You invent games, you create worlds, you try to replicate great ideas from your imagination, only to have your kid brother ruin them by "doing it wrong." A scuffle ensues, someone goes and tells, and playtime is over...until tomorrow when you're right back at it again.

On September 2, playtime is back.

We close with an odd obsessed observation: I just bought a gallon of milk tonight, and by the time it goes bad we'll be at Arizona Stadium cheering on the Cats. We're so close we can taste it.

Let's just hope it doesn't go sour.



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