Not long ago the idea that the Arizona Wildcats could find their way into the postseason seemed borderline laughable.
The stumble in Hawaii seemed like a sign of what was to come.
Since then the Wildcats have reeled off three straight wins, while the Rainbow Warriors have ascended to 4-1 and look to be every bit the quality football team.
Maybe the reason why it was a bad loss isn’t that Arizona should have won, but because they came this close to coming away with a road victory over a good team.
Whatever the case, the Wildcats have taken care of business each of the last three weeks, winning games that they simply could not afford to lose. They’ve done all they could to keep their season afloat, flashing a shiny new and competent defense along the way.
It’s been nice to see and at the very least has given Arizona football fans something to smile about.
Now the Wildcats prepare for a matchup with Colorado, a game they are expected to fall short in.
If they do, well, the narrative around the team won’t change much. They will have all of zero impressive wins on their resume and be three short of bowl eligibility as the meat of the schedule arrives.
But if the Wildcats can pull off the upset, with or without their starting QB on the field, the season will have an entirely new meaning. A win would put Arizona at 4-1, giving them their best five-game start since 2014 (5-0) and give them a legitimate shot at reaching bowl eligibility.
Even more than that, it would be another sign that the Wildcats are progressing as a team. You’d have to be pretty good to go on the road and beat a team that has victories over Nebraska and Arizona State, and winning a game in a hostile environment is always a difficult proposition.
Would a victory in Boulder be enough to convince you? Right now Arizona leads the Pac-12 in yards per game and is fourth in points per outing, while defensively they are surrendering a respectable 29.3 points per game with a conference-leading 11 turnovers created.
Statistically, Arizona is a solid football team that appears to be on the upswing.
For the first time since his arrival, it looks like Kevin Sumlin has the program moving in the right direction. Really. Even if one wants to argue they’ve been beating teams they should, the sad fact of the matter is his team didn’t always do that last season.
Besides, good teams beat the bad ones and then steal a few from those who are on-par or slightly better. Colorado is probably just a bit better than Arizona — let’s call it the homefield advantage — and the bettors seem to agree, with the spread being less than a touchdown in favor of the Buffaloes.
However, it may surprise you to learn that Arizona’s opponent has allowed 30.8 points per game — more than full point worse than the Wildcats — with teams tallying a healthy 175.5 yards per game on the ground against them.
Colorado is coming off a bye, though, and injuries could be an issue for the visitors. But they do seem plenty beatable.
Yet, no matter how much (or little?) confidence there may be in Colorado, Arizona is not supposed to win this game. The old Arizona, the one we saw last season, wouldn’t.
Shoot, it might not have even be competitive.
The hope is this is a new Arizona, one that has a dynamic offense, a defense that can step up when that offense falters and a coaching staff that can maximize its talent. We’ve seen some of that lately, but we need to see if the last three games were a sign of Arizona’s growth or just its lackluster opponents.
The Wildcats tripped up when the season began, but over their last three games have picked themselves up. Now we’ll see if they can take a big step forward.