Lock and LOAD

August 27, 2007

by Scott Terrell

Are you ready for some optimism?

It’s Year 3 of the Line Of Agonizing Disappointment and thus far it has been an exercise in that D word. Two years ago I expected five wins and we only got three. That was disappointing.

Last year was strange. I asked for six wins and I got it…and I was still disappointed. How can that be?

Sometimes LOADs shift in transit. After the Oregon State game our record was 3-5, we were down to our third string quarterback, and our offense was only able to produce three points at home. At that point I would’ve taken four wins and been done with it.

When we beat Washington State I was satisfied with the season. Then we beat Cal and it was icing on the cake. But then we crushed Oregon and it was wait-a-second-what-is-going-on-here?

Suddenly it didn’t feel like we had a 6-6 team anymore. It felt like we had a red-hot team ready to lock up a winning season with a home victory against an underachieving rival who was about to fire their coach. And when it didn’t happen (the victory, not the coach-firing), there was disappointment.

To be fair, the first 11 of games of ’06 were not disappointing as a whole. I had predicted a 5-6 record going into Tempe and the Cats bettered that by a game. But if you take the stance that the ASU game is a season unto itself, that second season was a big bummer. Stoops losing to the Devils in Tucson for the first time, Stoops finishing with a losing record against Lame Duck Koetter, and Stoops missing out on his first winning season as a head coach. It just shows how one game can change your perception of an entire season.

The other factor in my disappointment was I thought six wins would get us a bowl bid. I assumed someone like the Poinsettia Bowl would fall all over itself to invite a Pac-10 school with a bowl-starved fanbase to make the road trip to San Diego. Little did I know that NCAA rules would shackle the fine people of Poinsettia with a 7-5 Northern Illinois team and their 60 yards of total offense. I had a “bowl or bust” mentality going into last season so in that regard 2006 was yet another bust.

But now we’re undefeated again.

Another new year and another clean slate. A bunch of starters have returned and so has the optimism. If at first you don’t succeed, LOAD, LOAD again.

How well the 2007 Arizona Football Cats do will depend on how the team plays on the road. We play the top three Pac-10 teams from last year (USC, Cal, Oregon State) all on the road, as well as the BYU game to start the year, plus the rivalry game. It’s not a casual travel itinerary to say the least.

The good news is we’ll have a strong and experienced defense while BYU, OSU and Washington will all have new quarterbacks. Road crowds aren’t as intimidating when they’re grumbling about rookie mistakes.

On the flip side you have the home schedule, which looks very nice. NAU, New Mexico, Washington State, Stanford, UCLA and Oregon. If we don’t win those first four it’ll be disappointing. If the new offense isn’t good enough by the end of the year to split those last two it’ll be disappointing. A 5-1 home record is a strong possibility. Wouldn’t that be a nice end to your tailgating days?

[Note: This year I refuse to call any game “must win” due to the simple fact that we have yet to win even one of my so-called must-win Pac-10 games: Washington and Stanford in ’05, and Washington and OSU in ’06. Stop me before I boast again.]

At first glance, the toughest games are bunched in the first half of the year. If we get to mid-October with health, confidence and any kind of momentum we could be favored in each of the final five games. That’s not necessary good news, but it’s news.

You can further divide the early season schedule into two parts. There are the three out-of-conference games, then a challenging start to the Pac-10 season with three out of four on the road (against those aforementioned top three teams). If you’re going to have a winning season you want to have four wins by the time you finish the USC game. Is that a much easier task if you start out 3-0? Of course, but even a 2-1 non-league record is fine if we can take care of business at home against WSU and win one of our first three road conference games.

If you assume last year is a decent indicator of this year, there appear to be six very-winnable games on the schedule: NAU, New Mexico, WSU, Stanford and Oregon at home, and Washington on the road. If you put the Cal and USC road games as probable losses the key games are at BYU, at OSU, UCLA, and at ASU. Even if you budget for a letdown against one of the winnable six, you still only need a split in the key games to post a winning season.

But what if we win do post that 5-1 home mark? What if finally beat Washington again? What if we do better than a split in the four swing games? There’s a lot of room for UA-happy math on this year’s schedule.

So, it’s time to lay it on the line. Kinda. To protect myself against shifting expectations I’m going to be a little more specific this year. I’m not a greedy man. I could be satisfied with a single-game improvement over last year. I could be happy with a seven-win season…providing one of those wins is against Arizona State.

I suppose I could also be pacified if we end our season with a bowl victory of any kind. But if we finish at 7-6 with losses in our final two games, I will not be happy Cat.

There you have it. Seven wins with a victory in the Territorial Cup game and/or a bowl win, or eight wins in any way, shape or form, and you will not hear me complain. LOAD me up.

We’ve got a game this week.

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