As I digested the fact that USC beat Arizona last night, a few thoughts came to mind. First and foremost, any dream-scenario where Arizona somehow makes the Rose Bowl is now impossible. So take a deep breath, and let those hopes go. Feel better? Me neither, but that's life for a football fan. There was a lot of hope as the season progressed that the Wildcats would finally pull it off and make it to that illusive Rose Bowl, but they are still not 100% ready yet. However, I absolutely believe that this team is superior to the one we all saw last year.
Lets all collectively remember where we were last season. For that matter, the season before that as well. We were, for the most part, praising Mike Stoops' slow-but-steady rebuilding of the program. I would argue to my football buddies that this method, get a little better each year, was the way to set a program up for sustained success. No taking gambles on great players with questionable character and legal issues. No bending the rules for superstars. No recruiting violations that could come back and bite you. No shortcuts.
Remember the Las Vegas Bowl? Do you remember the joy at hearing the Wildcats would be playing in a bowl game? The feeling of watching them defeat, with ease, the higher ranked BYU Cougars? I do. I floated on that all the way until the next season. It was awesome.
Then came the 2009 season, and somehow the Wildcats found themselves a star QB in Nick Foles, the shaggy-haired transfer from Michigan State. To top that, they were in serious contention for a Rose Bowl berth. At the announcement that the Arizona Wildcats would be playing in the Holiday Bowl, there were smiles all around. Until the kickoff, that is.
After that painful loss, there was much excusing of the Arizona team. Not by the team or staff, but by the fans. "They lost a couple games on fluke or bogus plays." "The coordinators had one foot out the door in the Holiday Bowl." There will be similar talk at the end of this regular-season. Talk of how CB Trevin Wade under-performed. Heated arguments over who should have been the QB, at various points in the season. Blame will be pointed in several directions, including K Alex Zendejas, and coach Mike Stoops.
Well, lets not be those fans. Those fluke plays and bogus calls didn't undo the Wildcats in 2009, the inconsistency did. And the what has undone the Wildcats so far this season? A combination of inconsistent play, and vastly improved competition. The Pac-10 is a rough conference, Wildcat faithful. We know this better than most. It is again, correctly, ranked the #1 conference by the Sagarin rankings. So it is incredibly difficult to come out on top of that grouping of tough football teams. We can take this loss, and any more that may be down the road. Because no amount of losses remaining on the schedule will allow this season to even compare to the despair and tyranny of the Mackovic years. Just keep that in mind.
I have to be little mad at myself, here. I bought in to the hysteria. I ignored the fact that, while Arizona has improved steadily each season under coach Stoops, it has never been the massive leap forward that I convinced myself had taken place this season. So, I'm mad at myself for buying in so easily. But not too mad. Without the high hopes, realistic or not, the games would not have been as fun or exciting. Of course, the losses hurt much worse when the wins feel that good. But I find that I'm ok with it.
I'll still be cheering for the Arizona Wildcats as they head into an Oregon game that nobody will give them a chance in. And hey, if Cal can almost beat the Ducks, maybe we can get the upset. Yeah, I can see it now...