OK so we don’t want ‘Bama.
Arizona’s loss Saturday night to Mississippi State should not have been much of a surprise. Despite the Wildcats’ year-over-year improvement and the excitement that followed a Week 1 victory over San Diego State, the fact of the matter is they were not as good a team as their opponent.
While it is entirely possible for a lesser team to win, it’s called an “upset” for a reason. That Arizona was unable to pull one off, despite hanging around into the fourth quarter, should not make anyone upset.
In many ways this game was reminiscent of what we saw in 2021. There were moments throughout where you thought the Wildcats might be able to pull it off, such as the opening drive touchdown or after any of the three turnovers Arizona collected.
None of it was enough because at the same time the team could not overcome its own mistakes or the talent differential, and ultimately lost the game. Yet while the game may have had a familiar feel, it was not at all like what we saw last year, at least not in the ways that matter.
Arizona didn’t lose because it lacks competency at quarterback, as Jayden de Laura completed passes to nine different receivers and showed his athleticism on a good many plays. A little willingness to run the ball will go a long way for him, and you can expect that change to be incorporated into future game plans.
The defense was also solid, not allowing the Air Raid to march up and down the field and pile up points. Johnny Nansen’s group collected three turnovers and two sacks while doing all it could to keep Arizona in the game.
Arizona wasn’t outclassed, at least not to the point where you felt the Cats didn’t deserve to share the field with their opponent.
This was simply a situation of Arizona facing a better team and needing to play well in order to have a chance. They did not, so ultimately they did not.
No, Arizona was not good enough to beat a solid SEC team, one with an experienced defense and an offense that has been running its system for a few years now. But that SEC team is not the barometer for which we should judge Arizona, nor will the loss to it mean much when the season is over and done with.
Assuming, of course, Arizona is in fact a decent football team that had the misfortune of a difficult matchup put in place eight years ago by athletic directors and coaches who are no longer with their respective schools.
Though the Bulldogs are still unranked, the Sagarin Ratings have them sitting 11th. That is better than just one team on Arizona’s schedule—No. 9 Utah—and as the season progresses we may come to learn MSU was the best team Arizona will be forced to face.
The Wildcats’ next opponent, defending FCS champ North Dakota State, is 58th, seven spots ahead of Arizona. Add in homefield advantage and, well, you get a game Arizona has every right and ability to win.
That’s not to say it will be an easy game because, let’s be honest, there is no such thing for Arizona until the rebuild is complete. When this game kicks off it will have been 364 days since the debacle against NAU, a game in which even at their worst the Wildcats certainly had the more talented roster. And yet, one year ago they suffered a defeat that is possibly even more embarrassing than that one that ended the 2020 season.
At any rate, the Bison are better now than the Lumberjacks were then. Much, much better.
This is all part of what makes this such an interesting game to play. In some ways it’s a no-win situation. Beating a team from the Missouri Valley Conference is not something that generally goes on the resume, while losing to the the Bison, who have won nine FCS titles since 2011, would not be nearly as bad as initial appearances would indicate.
But make no mistake, this is a game Arizona should win. Or, rather, this is a game an improved Arizona should win.
Similar to how Arizona should not be expected to have the kind of talent to beat a good SEC team, it absolutely must have enough to beat an FCS one, even if it is the best the lower division has to offer.