During Arizona’s demolition of Utah last Saturday, fellow AZDesertSwarm writer Ezra Amacher turned to me and said something to the effect of how that win was the most important of the season.
He wasn’t wrong.
Arizona hadn’t beaten the Utes in years, and to not only earn a win over the defending Pac-12 champs but blow them out sure was something.
But lost in that idea, which is something Ezra and I discussed, was how every game Arizona has played during its five-game winning streak was the most important of the season at the time it was played.
Had Arizona not beaten Washington State, the victory over Oregon State wouldn’t have meant as much. If the Wildcats had fallen to the Beavers, their triumph over UCLA would have mattered just a little less. If the Cats lost to Colorado, the game against Utah would would have been just another game against a ranked opponent.
The more you win the greater significance each game carries. And now with Utah defeated, the game against ASU is now the biggest of the season.
Many would give it that label no matter the team’s record, which is fair. It is the rivalry game, after all, and keeping the Territorial Cup in Tucson is of the utmost importance.
But unlike many seasons in which this game has been played, the Wildcats are clearly the superior team.
Arizona is 15th in the College Football Playoff rankings. ASU is likely higher ranked as an educational institution than a football program. The Wildcats average nearly twice as many points per game as the Sun Devils, give up about 10 fewer and are better in every facet of the game.
ASU has a handful of talented players, sure. But this season has shown us they don’t have nearly enough to compete with, let alone beat, good teams.
It’s why the Wildcats are double-digit road favorites going into the game and why fears of Arizona overlooking their opponent exist.
But if history is any indication, that will not be a problem. Many games throughout this winning streak could have been followed by a let down of sorts. It would have been understandable, and many of us kept waiting for it to happen.
Except it never did. The coaching staff and players have shown an ability to not get too high or low while remaining confident and focused on the task at hand. They haven’t always played well, and there’s a chance the Wildcats don’t bring their A-game to Tempe Saturday.
But as Jedd Fisch noted early in the week, there is no shortage of motivation for a game that shouldn’t require much to get up for. But again, that shouldn’t be a concern to begin with.
This is a mature group that seems to know how to handle whatever situation it faces.
Because of that Arizona has taken the final step toward being a legitimately good team. Last season it went from hoping to win to believing they could win, and this season the Wildcats face transitioned from knowing they can win to expecting to win. That’s what you want to see, but only if it comes with the understanding that you won’t win simply by showing up, that you have to play hard no matter the opponent.
As seen all season the Wildcats bring a more even-keel approach to game. It’s why when down, they are not out and when up, they don’t coast. Close games or tight situations do not phase them and nor do, apparently, expectations
So as Arizona prepares for its final Pac-12 game against rival Arizona State, a bad football team it is expected to beat by at least two scores, take solace in the fact that while indeed anything can happen, Arizona does not have the makeup of a team that will be susceptible to being over confident.
Instead Arizona appears to be a team that with every week has learned more about what it is capable of, and at the same time has proven it understands what it must do in order to keep the good times going.
Win or lose, the season will not end Saturday in Tempe. It’s a position the program has not been in since 2017 and, if things go well in Eugene on Friday, the game against Arizona State could be for a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
But even if the Ducks knock off the Beavers Friday that disappointment is unlikely to impact the Wildcats’ motivation or focus. This is an even-keel group that doesn’t get too high or too low. It’s why they’re never out of a game when down and don’t take their foot off the gas when up.
It’s a trait the best teams have, and it’s one Arizona has shown over the course of the 2023 season. And with one conference game left to play, it should serve them well in avoiding a colossal upset against a team they should beat in what is the most important game of the season.