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Herm Edwards’ “success” at ASU should have no bearing on Kevin Sumlin, Arizona

arizona-Wildcats-kolbe-cage-commitment-college-football-2021-analysis Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The predictions are wrong.

Ever since the Pac-12 released its schedule (one that seems ever more likely to not actually be played) many have provided their take on how the Arizona Wildcats will fare.

We here at AZ Desert Swarm did it, and it should come as no surprise that none of us are expecting greatness.

Plenty of national writers have chimed in with similar expectations. Save for Stewart Mandel’s belief that Arizona will win as many games as they would if the season was canceled, there is little to quarrel with.

There’s little reason to think Arizona will be anything better than mediocre over the course of a conference-only schedule, and there’s a pretty good chance they’ll actually be bad.

No one is going to argue with that, nor with the idea that another bad season could mean the end of the Kevin Sumlin era in Tucson.

Where the experts have often gone wrong is in their analysis, especially regarding Sumlin.

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd, the Sporting News’ Bill Bender, College Football News’ Pete Fiutak all rightfully put the third-year coach on the hot seat, but each wrongfully mentioned what’s happening up the road at ASU as being part of the reason.

Ignoring the fact that the Sun Devils have been pretty average the last two seasons (an attribute the Wildcats would gladly take right now), they seem to believe what is happening in Tempe should have an impact decisions made in Tucson.


That’s not to say watching Herm Edwards and ASU get good publicity and even some high-profile recruits is enjoyable, especially as Sumlin and UA struggle.

There is also the fact that Sumlin is 0-2 against his in-state rival, a mark that features a collapse of sizable portions in the first meeting back in 2018.

But that’s about where the inclusion of Arizona State when analyzing Arizona should stop.

The truth is while we all would like to see Arizona be the premier program in the state, ASU is in no way the benchmark and certainly not any kind of barometer.

Is Arizona State the better program right now? Yes, but there are plenty of schools ahead of the Sun Devils, too. Arizona needs to leap past ASU to get to where it wants to go, but simply jumping ahead of their rival would in no way signal they’ve arrived.

In fact, it was not that long ago — in 2014 — when Arizona was on top of the Pac-12 South. It was Rich Rodriguez’s third season with the school and everything seemed to fall into place. Redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon was a star while true freshman Nick Wilson was a revelation at running back. There was also that Scooby Wright fella, who as a linebacker was arguably the best defender in college football that season.

Was Arizona a great team that season? Hardly, but they got enough breaks and won enough games to put together a pretty magical season. Unfortunately for the program it was not the beginning of a rise in prominence, as injuries and attrition ended up depleting the roster before Rodriguez was fired after three more seasons.

Although 2014 was an outlier, Arizona going to bowl games in five of six seasons under their former coach shows the program is plenty capable of at least being average. The goal, of course, is to be even better than that. It’s happened before, as the 90s saw a program that contended in the conference and twice finished the season ranked in the AP top 10.

That — or something similar — is what Arizona should strive for. Not the mediocrity that has defined their in-state rival or, if we’re being honest, most of the last decade.

How does the program get there? The hope was that Sumlin could do it. Known as a top-notch recruiter, he had some success at Texas A&M and was still fairly well regarded when he took the Arizona job.

Two seasons, nine wins and a few bottom-of-the-conference recruiting classes later and whatever excitement and faith there was regarding Sumlin has all but dissipated.

That’s how you get, in year 3, a bevy of articles suggesting the coach is on the hot seat or set to lose his job. While there are those who believe the third season is when you can really tell if a coach has things heading in the right direction, the abject failure of the last two campaigns means the coach gets no benefit of the doubt.

Is Sumlin capable of getting the program back to the level Rodriguez had it? Can he lead it to even greater heights?

Those questions cannot fully be answered yet, though if the last two seasons are any indication then a simple “no” would suffice for both.

That’s why Sumlin should be on the hot seat. Edwards may be doing nice things at Arizona State, but that should have no bearing on the Arizona coach’s fate.