Arizona football is good, and it’s possibly the team is really good.
Having knocked off three straight ranked teams — with two of the wins being in dominant fashion — to reach a 6-3 mark, the Wildcats are deservedly ranked inside the top 25 in the AP Poll, the Coach’s Poll and the CFP Rankings.
The team has reached bowl eligibility with three games left to be played, and for the first time in a long time fans can truly feel good about not only where the program is. But where it is heading?
First it’s important to note how this season is hardly a fluke. Instead it is just another step in a process that began when Jedd Fisch and his staff came on board, with them executing a plan and maybe being at least a bit ahead of schedule.
After Arizona’s win over UCLA last Saturday, Fisch mentioned how getting here took commitment from the coaches and players, all of whom knew a rebuild was in store.
“It takes a lot of people that want to do that and leave their jobs to do that,” he said. “A lot of the guys we hired were in winning programs when we hired them, and they chose to trust us and trust what we were going to get done here.”
Trust is easy to want, but difficult to earn. That’s especially true for a coach who upon being hired had never truly led a college football program, had a reputation for bouncing around and came across, at least a little, as somewhat of a used car salesman.
Fisch started to change the narrative early with his enthusiasm, work ethic and desire to get alumni and Tucson behind the program. But as much as all that was appreciated, at some point wins would have to come. One the first year was excusable and five in year two was a step in the right direction.
There were high hopes for year three, but few could have anticipated the team being this good in this way, with a stout defense and a freshman QB leading the offense.
Winning is the true barometer of how a coach and staff are doing, so it’s not exactly breaking news to say Arizona’s are getting the job done. But really it’s about how they’re winning, or maybe why, that should have ‘Cats fans so excited.
Winning, by the way, is good.
With every win this team earns, more attention is given to Arizona. More eyes are seeing the progress and more ears are hearing about what’s happening in Tucson. Success will beget more success.
And that may be the most exciting aspect of how this season has gone.
“It’s all you could ask for,” Fisch said Thursday about having his program be talked about in such a positive way. “Throughout these tougher times through Arizona Football in the recent past, I would say that there were not many conversations about Arizona Football.
“And now when you’re being talked about and you’re becoming relevant that helps your recruiting, that helps your opportunities for your kids, maybe there’s more NIL opportunities the more you’re talked about. The more wins you have the more the fan base are willing to support our kids. The more money that goes into a collective the more multi-media rights, some more marketing opportunities our kids might have.”
Fisch added that winning was the main driver of opportunities, which is something he told his players over the last three seasons.
For Arizona, winning was never guaranteed. Winning this much this soon was never expected.
The rebuild was always supposed to be difficult. Arizona went winless in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and had a roster that didn’t much resemble that of a Power 5 program. Fisch’s hire brought about some optimism, but generally speaking you can’t win without good players and it’s tough to get good players until you win.
You also need to show you can develop players into NFL draft picks.
Fisch was able to sell high-end talent on his vision, and now it’s clear his pitch has evolved from theory to reality.
Come to Arizona and you will be developed by the coaching staff and have an opportunity to win.
The final piece to the landing-talent puzzle is getting players drafted, which should no longer be a problem. Arizona’s pick drought is guaranteed to end in 2024, with multiple players are likely to hear their names called over the course of the three-day event.
Of course, few are particularly worried about anything beyond this season. Arizona still has three conference games left — all of which are winnable — and a very nonzero chance of finding itself in the Pac-12 Championship Game. While they are unlikely to be playing football in Vegas on Dec. 1, there is every reason to believe they can head into the postseason as one of the hottest and better teams in the country.
All in a way that is not only sustainable, but can easily be built upon.