TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 05: Quarterback Nick Foles #8 of the Arizona Wildcats is sacked by Nai Fotu #42 of the Utah Utes during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 5, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. The Utes defeated the Wildcats 34-21. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Arizona Wildcats' 34-21 loss to the Utah Utes on Saturday was the stamp officially calling it basketball season in Tucson. The talk of making a bowl game is no longer masking just how disappointing of a season it's been, and it's time to talk about the future.
Here's an easy start: Who's going to be the coach?
There's more depth in the shifts and shakeups than the coaching opening, however. The recruiting class for 2012 is shaky without a lead recruiter. That's not to mention holes in the roster make-up of returning players. Who stays and who goes? What positions are lacking in talent?
Let's not forget about the guys who will be leaving with NFL dreams. Should this team splinter with pressure to perform on an individual level, even games against lowly Colorado and Louisiana-Lafayette are potential trap games.
Nick Foles, Juron Criner, Trevin Wade and Robert Golden would all be better off playing team ball and working on day-to-day improvement. But you can't help but think those guys will start thinking about their post-grad plans. Even a guy like Dan Buckner, a talented but quirky character, could leave for the NFL.
Transfers could hit the Wildcats, too. If Greg Byrne brings in a coach who puts the hammer down and shocks the players left over from the Stoops era, it could be a few years before said head coach can populate the starting lineups with capable players.
Hopefully, guys like Ka'Deem Carey and Tra'Mayne Bondurant stick around the program, while players like Adam Hall and Jonathan McKnight can recover and return to the field for what should be a talented defensive secondary next year. There's enough promising talent to think that Arizona will remain somewhat competitive should the players have time to adjust and learn a new system from December until the start of next season.
A lot of this is up in the air pending the coaching hire. A quarterback like Matt Scott would thrive in this season's offensive sets, but fitting into the next head coach's offense isn't a matter of talent but a matter of what exactly that offense is; Tom Savage gains eligibility in 2012, and Scott might end up losing yet another quarterback battle depending on the system that's brought into Tucson.
Enough of looking that far forward.
What's all this mean as the Wildcats approach the stretch run of this forgettable season? I'd sure like to keep an eye on the youngsters, giving them a chance to shine and develop through these last few games. At the same time, interim Tim Kish can't throw the seniors onto the bench.
It's kind of weird to think like this. There's more than a month of football left, and I'm already thinking about draft stocks and individual play rather than wondering if the Wildcats can win this week or the next. That mindset comes with the territory, I suppose, of having watched a team shoot itself in the foot through eight of nine games.
For the Wildcats' sake, they can't afford to have gone off thinking about the future.
They'll be reeling after loses to Colorado, ASU and Louisiana-Lafayette if that's the case.