This version of Arizona Wildcats football is following a similar script to the 2011-12 basketball squad, and if they truly are similar, then darker days are ahead. Just how dark is hard to say, but it's important to realize that Rich Rodriguez is still in the beginning stages of turning around a lost and broken ship once commanded by Mike Stoops.
So if the Wildcats end the season with clear skies this year in the form of seven or eight wins, consider that Arizona's arrival. If it's a struggle to make a bowl game, then consider it a completely plausible reality.
Arizona Wildcats fans might be hoping for a bowl game, and that is doable. The Wildcats' schedule hasn't been this favorable, arguably, in the last half-decade. A cupcake nonconference schedule and finally avoiding a gauntlet of a Pac-12 schedule helps. There isn't likely to be a back-to-back-to-back-to-back against ranked opponents this year. UA misses on playing both Stanford and Oregon for the first time in a long time.
The success from last year wasn't false, or by luck. Matt Scott, Austin Hill and Ka'Deem Carey all overachieved. Hill is likely going to miss the rest of 2012, so expectations are tempered from that standpoint -- but they should have been in the first place.
No matter Hill's status, there isn't a quarterback to get him the ball down the field. Because of that, Carey is likely to see a drop in effectiveness as defenses worry about him and only him.
The defense will be better, for sure. Will it be enough to make up for Scott?
Johnny Manziel's fame rose during the 2012 season as Texas A&M won. When they beat Alabama last year, the Heisman favoritism swung his way.
Manziel's ballsy decision-making and frowny attitude made him a folk hero and, on his team, a leader. It's not unlike Scott. Technically speaking, both quarterbacks have their flaws, but it was that aura surrounding them -- Scott playing through hit after hit in the USC game -- that made their teams follow. It's difficult to quantify how many wins, how many extra yards or any plus-minus both Arizona and A&M got out of their quarterbacks, but that's why we watch. We believe Scott's refusal to slide to the turf two feet sooner than he would earns him respect in the huddle. Manziel's jawing and bloated confidence does the same for the Aggies.
Numbers sometimes lie. Numbers don't tell the whole story. And numbers can't be used to measure aura.
In 2012, I wrote this same script in the midst of a downturn for the basketball team. Derrick Williams had been drafted by the Timberwolves the previous June, and the loss was being felt. Like Scott, Williams not only put in some numbers that positioned him to move on as a pro, but the presence in the huddle (of the basketball sort) that gave his teammates hope, confidence, belief, and all that good stuff.
Not only was Williams gone, but Williams didn't have a suitable replacement in terms of talent, schematics and statistics.
For this year's football team, the Wildcats don't have Scott's presence. They don't have a quarterback who could sling it like he did, as erratic as it might've been at times. At this point in time, they might never have anyone to sling it more than five yards.
Thing is, the worse-case scenario this year is a lot worse than it ever was last year.
But where last year's squad had the magic of a NCAA-leading rusher, the second-best receiver in the conference and a quarterback with something that couldn't be described much more than the cliche drivel of magic, playmaker, it-factor and moxy, this year's team only has the success of working with those three to spew swagger from. That makes this season testy, even if the Wildcats looked pretty good, especially defensively, against the Lumberjacks in the 2013 opener.
There are more players on this year's roster to stop any bleeding -- thank RichRod's recruiting for that -- but there are also vulnerabilities that could make any single wound a deadly one.