It can be funny how much emphasis people will put on an individual game, especially one early in the season.
Granted with so few games to be played and a wonky postseason system in college football, every game carries a level of importance not found in other sports. But still, early-season games rarely cause the emotional swings that they do, especially when they are of the non-conference variety.
Yet, the Arizona Wildcats’ season-opening loss to Hawaii led to some harsh — and not unreasonable — reactions. Following a comfortable win over NAU, the Wildcats have a chance to not only redeem themselves, but potentially salvage their season.
At 0-1, the Wildcats were a mess.
At 1-1, the Wildcats are a mystery.
At 2-1, the Wildcats would be...in good shape.
Indeed, as bad as things looked a couple weeks ago Arizona is a win over Texas Tech away from finishing the non-conference part of their schedule in a really good place. They would be perfect at home, and the only blemish on their schedule would be pretty understandable, given the circumstances.
More than that, they would have an early signature-ish win, the kind that would make you believe that hey, maybe this team isn’t so bad after all.
That’s not to say Texas Tech is some great team or the toughest opponent the Cats will see in 2019. Though a perfect 2-0, it is important to note that the Red Raiders have feasted on FCS foe Montana State and a bad team in UTEP. Matt Wells is in his first year as their head coach because the program won five games last season after combining for 11 victories in 2016 and 2017.
But this victory would be less about improving the SOS than it would be about sending a message that what happened in Hawaii was more of a fluke and the Wildcats are an improved football team in Year 2 of the Kevin Sumlin era.
No matter how they win the game, a victory over Texas Tech would have to make you more of a believer. Conversely, a loss could serve as further proof that offseason optimism for this year’s team was unfounded.
That’s why this game is so important. It may not be season-defining, but it could be season-salvaging.
According to many, it’s not supposed to be.
The Vegas odds are not favorable to Arizona, though it appears the “experts” are expecting a close game with plenty of points. That makes plenty of sense.
What I find interesting is that in a lot of ways, it’s almost like Arizona is looking in a mirror when they see Texas Tech. Both programs are traditionally in the middle of their conference, and each has in recent years featured an amazing offense and questionable — at best — defense.
The two programs also have changed coaches in recent years, having fired staffs that weren’t bad, but couldn’t get them to the level they aspired.
If Arizona wins this game, it would be a sign that maybe, just maybe, they are on their way. Really.
Everyone is still understandably jaded after how last season finished, though it’s easy forget how much better Arizona was playing up until the fourth quarter of the final game. That memory carried into this season, and when the Wildcats fell to Hawaii in Week 0 all the bad feelings came rushing back.
Winning last week wasn’t special, but it was cathartic. It had been a while since Arizona had won a football game, and regardless of the opponent, it felt good to get the first win of the new season.
But unlike with NAU, Arizona can’t just show up and beat Texas Tech on talent alone. The coaches will need to develop a good gameplan and the players will need to execute it. They will need to minimize the mistakes while capitalizing on big play opportunities.
In short, the Wildcats will need to play a good game if they are to come away with a win. You don’t beat a quality opponent any other way.
At issue is while there is no reason to believe it can’t happen, there is little reason to believe it will. Arizona may have confidence in itself, but for everyone else there is an incredible sense of doubt and, perhaps, despair regarding the program.
The only way to shake them is by winning, though victories over NAU-level competition are not the kind that can turn a season — and even a program — around.
A win over Texas Tech would be.