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Territorial Cup a microcosm of Arizona Wildcats' season

It started with hope, took a few tumbles, rose to an apex, and came crashing back to earth.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 Arizona Wildcats football season began with as much promise as it can get after last season's Pac-12 South title and Fiesta Bowl berth.

That promise ended Saturday afternoon with something barely more audible than a whimper. (Also known as the sound UA fans made as our ASU friends celebrated the victory).

While the game might not have turned out how most of us would have liked, it provided us with a relatively linear representation of the UA season.

Just like the run up to the kickoff against UTSA on September 3rd, Wildcat fans had hope to 'Keep the Cup' after the overtime victory over Utah the week prior. The team showed resilience, an ability to stop the run, and timely impact performances key to winning almost any college football game.

That hope took its first set back when it was announced Anu Solomon would not play due to a concussion. It took a further hit when Arizona State jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. This sequence runs parallel to UA's start of the season as they lost 2014 Defensive Player of the Year (and the winner of basically every defensive award he could have won) Scooby Wright III in their first game.

However, just because the going got tough to start the game, Arizona bounced back with a pick-6 against Mike Bercovici, cutting the deficit in half at 14-7. Symbolically, even with their defensive leader out, the 'Cats pushed out to a 3-0 start to the season, earning themselves the arrival of ESPN's GameDay.

And just like on Saturday when hope's ascension began, it was quickly sent packing.  The Sun Devils put the Wildcats in a hole they would never climb out of, going up 31-10 at the half with three long drives of almost 70 yards each.

As is the theme of this article, that second quarter is as good a representation of the Wildcats season (specifically their 2-5 stretch spanning from the Gameday blowout versus UCLA to the eight point loss at Southern Cal) as you can get.

If Arizona could have kept the game closer during the second quarter, just like if they could have pulled out a couple more victories during their seven game stretch, it would have put themselves in position for a competitive fourth quarter, or in this case, a second Pac-12 South title.

But, like most RichRod season's in Tucson, he always has a little magic left in the hat.

That was all too evident as UA secured another victory over a top 10 opponent last weekend. At this point in the saga, highly-ranked teams are looking over their shoulders hoping they're not the sacrificial lamb Rich Rodriguez uses in his pre-season football ritual.

The 'Cats also showed some grit and 'magic' as they rallied, getting within eight points twice; at the 0:46 second mark of the third quarter and the 6:50 mark in the fourth.  Frustratingly though, neither attempt at squaring the game up proved successful as injuries (see no starting QB, LB, RB, ~half of team) and mistakes (two pick 6's in 63 seconds) were the finishing blows.

Those two areas plagued the team from training camp onward and with no bye week, the team was never able to find their groove. But when you take a step back and view this season with a wide lens,  a .500 season, while disappointing, should be recognized as probably the best we could do with the cards we were dealt and the vicious nature of Pac-12 football.

The team and fans should be ready - happy even - to put 2015 in the rear-view mirror, hop in an ice bath, and get ready to make noise in 2016.