Now that non-conference play is over and the Arizona Wildcats have a bye week, we have some time to reflect on the season to this point and evaluate how our expectations have changed after a 2-1 start.
Here is what our staff members think.
In our pre-fall camp predictions, I said that the Wildcats would go 7-5 and wrote, “the Hawaii, UCLA, Colorado and ASU games can all go either way, and I only see three games on the schedule that I’m anywhere close to certain Arizona will win: against NAU, Texas Tech and Oregon State at home.”
Well, so far, my projections have looked pretty good.
We all know the Hawaii game was mostly terrible, especially defensively for the UA, but in the end it definitely could have gone either way like I predicted. I mean, just think about the last play.
Picking the Cats as a lock to beat NAU was an easy call, but the same can’t be said about doing so against unbeaten and seemingly free-scoring Texas Tech.
Arizona entered as a rare home underdog, but something, I’m not really sure what, told me that the UA wasn’t losing to the Red Raiders.
With no palpable evidence to back it up, I even went as far as saying in our pregame predictions that the UA’s defense would have its best game of the year to date.
Miraculously, Marcel Yates’ embattled defensive unit proved me right.
What I’m trying to get at is this: this season has gone pretty much how I’ve expected it to so far and nothing that’s happened with the team has really changed my outlook on things.
However, something that non-conference play did change my outlook on is the strength of some of the Pac-12’s other teams.
Stanford, USC and even Washington have looked more vulnerable than I initially expected, and I feel more confident than before in saying that there could be a real chance that the Wildcats can steal a win against one of them — making up for the disappointment of the season opening loss against Hawaii.
My preseason prediction was 7-5 which included a 2-1 performance in non-conference. Saturday’s win over Texas Tech puts the Wildcats back on track to achieve that record. Now, if they were entering conference play with a 1-2 mark, that would have dramatically changed things.
This still feels attainable as most everyone left on the schedule seems to be about what we thought they were to begin the season. The biggest changes are Stanford and USC. Playing at Stanford will still be tough but their defense hasn’t been on par with the typical David Shaw standard.
USC is also interesting because they lost starting quarterback JT Daniels. This will still be a difficult game as it’s on the road and USC almost always has superior talent. They’re just more vulnerable with true freshman Kedon Slovis running the offense.
One thing that needs to be considered is UA’s defense. If Saturday night wasn’t a fluke and Marcel Yates has finally cracked the code, a Pac-12 South title is definitely in play. However, I’m not ready to hitch my wagon to that notion just yet. There will need to be a certain level of luck associated with avoiding injuries but if that stays in their favor, this team should definitely finish the regular season with seven wins.
Brian J. Pedersen
The biggest adjustment the non-conference performance did to my outlook, other than require Arizona to need to win four Pac-12 games to make a bowl game instead of three, is that I’m less concerned about this team imploding if/when a bad stretch happens.
It helps that the midseason gauntlet Arizona’s scheduled presented—Washington, at USC, at Stanford—doesn’t seem nearly as daunting as it did a month ago.
The defense still isn’t good, but it has the capability to be better. The offense is fine, as long as it doesn’t make mistakes and sticks with its strengths. Six wins are very doable, considering the overall level of play in the Pac-12, and possibly more if Arizona can just not be its own worst enemy.
I was pretty skeptical about Arizona this season, and while I thought a bowl was a likelihood before the season, I think it’s closer to a coin flip now.
The win over Texas Tech where Arizona looked amazing and the loss to Hawaii where the ‘Cats were lucky to fall one yard short basically wash out in my eyes, and that leaves us with a 65-41 victory over a mediocre FCS team to parse data with. Despite the absurd rollercoaster of emotions Arizona has sent its fanbase on, I really don’t know if my preseason expectations have changed much.
I thought 2-1 in non-conference was the bare minimum required for any dreams of a bowl, and even then it would take some lucky bounces or another bad year for most of Arizona’s schedule. The Pac-12 is in purgatory between good and bad in my eyes, and Kevin Sumlin does not have a great record in close games. I would set the over/under for Arizona’s win total firmly at 6, but I truly have no idea what to expect from this squad as usual.
I had the ‘Cats going 8-4 at the start of the season, with them going undefeated in non-con play. Now, I am still sticking with 8-4 but also believe they can go 7-5.
Looking at the schedule, I’m having a difficult time pinning down how this team’s season will go.
For instance, Colorado looked great in a comeback win over Nebraska, but looked like absolute garbage in a loss to Air Force. Stanford isn’t playing like they normally do. The USC game is a toss-up for me now.
Either way, much like Brian, I am less worried about this team bouncing back from adversity. They did not play their best football in the first two games of the season, period. The staff knew it, the players knew it. They bounced back nicely against Texas Tech.
If they can keep up this momentum, and get better every week, I genuinely think this team will do better than people think. It all depends on how they progress.
The win against Texas Tech is certainly helps the bad taste from the Hawaii loss and NAU struggles, but I am still a little uninspired as I’m not sure the one-week improvement at defense is sustainable.
What does make me feel slightly better is the fact that the rest of the Pac-12 is really looking rough. UCLA becomes a must win. Colorado had a big win against Nebraska but then an option team catches them. USC certainly looks vulnerable wit yet another true freshman quarterback. Stanford looks to be at their worst. Oregon State has shown a little fight but you have to be able to come out with that win. ASU has not been able to easily score, and of course that’s always a toss up.
I think Arizona can get three more wins, but that fourth one might elusive. For now I’ll still keep them at 5-7, but they could very well go 6-6. Anything over that and I’d be ecstatic.
It’s tough to say Arizona’s 2-1 non-conference record changed much of my opinion. It’s true that I had them going 3-0 to start the season, but I have a feeling that loss to Hawaii will not be a bad one when it’s all over with.
More than that, it would be easy to say, “well, we at least though the defense would be better than awful,” and no doubt they were quite bad through the first game and the second half of the second. But a quality performance against Texas Tech gives the impression that maybe they won’t be so bad after all, which would most definitely change the direction of the season for the better.
Given that Khalil Tate looks more willing to run, the offense should be just fine. If the defense can play as well as it did against the Red Raiders, then the Wildcats should have enough to get through a middling conference and finish with the 7 wins I predicted before the season began.
I originally predicted Arizona to go 5-7, then switched it to 6-6 after getting some insight during fall camp. I still think those are the two most likely scenarios.
What I have learned in non-conference play is that you have no idea what you are going to get from this Arizona team on a given Saturday. There is some excitement in that, but I think what you will find the rest of the way is that Arizona will win a game or two that it shouldn’t and then drop a game that it should’ve won.
Or maybe I’m wrong and the defense is legit and Arizona has a chance to make some noise in the Pac-12 South.