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Is it safe (or wise) to start thinking Arizona football might be close to turning things around?

arizona-wildcats-football-preseason-predictions-expectations-optimism-jedd-fisch-rebuild-pac12-2022 Photo by Christopher Hook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you’re reading this, chances are you want the Arizona Wildcats to be good.

The team’s struggles over the last few seasons—with the low point either being a home loss to NAU last season or a losing streak that stretched to a country-worst 20 games, or both—were tough to handle, with the disappointment rivaling the shame that came from the justifiable jokes at the program’s expense.

So the sooner Jedd Fisch can turn things around, the better.

Is it possible that soon is now?

One thing about this time of the year is that optimism washes over us all. The new players will all make an impact, the returners will be much improved and all the bounces and breaks will go the team’s way.

Except, none of that is true. Or at least, we don’t know how much of which parts—if any—will be.

We do know with some certainty the roster is substantially more talented than it was in years past. Arizona held a scrimmage over the weekend, and while specific reports and angles varied, one common thread throughout every tale told by observers is that there are more good players on the roster than there were before.

Not to break any news, but the more good players you have generally the better your team will be.

The question is if Arizona has enough in the right places to not only compete in games, but actually win a few.

The betting lines still have the ‘Cats hovering around three wins for 2022, which in the right circumstances could be viewed as a solid season for the program. However, at this time—at the tail end of another Fisch offseason and before the first game is played—expectations are apparently higher.

The informal poll of more than 600 SB Nation readers showed more than 76 percent believe Arizona will win more than three games, while 18 percent think they’ll tally that exact number. Add it up, and 94 percent of those polled believe the Wildcats will win at least three games.

Generally speaking, three wins is not much to ask for. But we must remember that Arizona has won just once over its last 24 games and has, at least on paper, a fairly challenging schedule to play.

While it would be silly to assume Arizona is better than anyone (remember that NAU game last season), as of now the Wildcats are not heavily favored to win any of their 12 games by ESPN, though they are favored to win three of them. McIllece Sports’ algorithms are much higher on Arizona, favoring it in seven matchups. It’s been a while, but if Arizona wins seven games it will go to a bowl.

It has happened before, and in theory it will happen again. But this season? In year two of the Fisch era? It’s hard to believe we’re even having such thoughts, but ...

... this is what happens after another offseason of Fisch. While the rebuild is hardly complete, there are no longer any obvious holes on the roster. Most position groups have experience, athleticism, skill or some combination of the three.

Combine that with an energetic coaching staff that has more experience and knowledge of its roster and methods and you get legitimate reason to think three, or maybe even seven, wins are in the future.

Not to rain on any parade, but now might be a good time to heed the words of a wise band called the Gin Blossoms, who once sang, “And if you don’t expect too much from me you might not be let down.”

Hey, turns out some good things can come from Tempe after all. But I digress.

While Arizona is most certainly more talented than it was last season, it takes more than talent to win in college.

The Wildcats are integrating a new quarterback who, while accomplished, has reportedly struggled to gain comfort in this NFL-style offense.

The team will also be relying heavily on freshmen. These are talented freshmen, mind you, the kind of which could certainly justify significant snaps. But they’re still freshmen, which means they will make mistakes and at times be physically overmatched by older, stronger opponents.

Red zone struggles must be fixed, the offensive line must improve and the defense must adjust to a new system as well as, ideally, create some turnovers.

Arizona also must take its talent and make the leap from a team that simply strives to be competitive to one that enters each game expecting to win. It sounds cliché and to be fair a team doesn’t know how to win until it, you know, wins, but there is a certain confidence needed to come up big in the most important moments of a game.

And therein lies the main point: At this time a year ago we all looked at Arizona and figured the program was at least a few seasons away from threatening to reach a bowl game. The roster not only needed to be revamped, but rebuilt.

Arizona was arguably the worst program in the country not that long ago, and it would be great to put those times in the rearview mirror.

But objects in that mirror are closer than they appear, and quick fixes are tough to pull off. Fisch and his staff’s ability to recruit, along with the transfer portal and NIL changed the dynamic, leaving many to believe the turnaround is no longer on the way, but here.

We’ll soon find out.