So here it is.
The most anticipated football season since 2018 has arrived, and it’s now on the Arizona Wildcats to show that the improvement we all feel has been made is not only real, but enough to propel the program from respectable to good.
It’s a tougher step. After all, despite how Arizona has made things look it’s not difficult for a Power 5 program to be, you know, not terrible. The Cats won five games last season, a total that included a victory over then-No. 12 UCLA on the road and represented a substantial increase over the season before.
Having brought most of the offensive talent back while adding many a newcomer to the defensive side of the ball, it stands to reason more wins should be on the horizon. And yet, the betting line has the Wildcats sitting around five wins once again.
That would be disappointing, right?
Given that every one of us who writes for AZDesertSwarm picked the Cats to win at least six games, it would at least be surprising.
That’s what we call progress.
Perhaps it’s too soon. It wasn’t that long ago that Arizona went winless during a shortened season and then won a single game during a full one. Yet in the transfer portal era it is very possible to rebuild a roster in a hurry, and it’s a credit to Jedd Fisch and his staff that this is a team that, at least on the surface, appears to have enough talent to compete with most anyone they will face.
The offense, returning what it has and with room to improve, should again be among the nation’s best.
The defense, bringing in who it did, has plenty of room to improve on what was one of the nation’s worst.
Fisch has said it’s the best roster he’s had since taking over, and it’s easy to see why. There is either production, potential or both at nearly every position, and in some spots there is actual, genuine depth.
What a time to be alive.
Of course, Saturday night’s opener against NAU will be both an excellent judge of how far Arizona has come and in no way an indicator of how this season will play out.
Despite the result from when these programs met two years ago, the Wildcats should be significantly better than the Lumberjacks. They should be bigger. They should be faster. They should be stronger and more athletic. They should be deeper, too.
Saturday night should see Arizona doing pretty much whatever it wants to offensively while being disruptive defensively. It’s what a decent Power 5 program should do against a lesser FCS foe.
This all assumes Arizona is, in fact, at least a decent Power 5 program. This is where the no-win situation comes in.
Should the Wildcats struggle with this opponent or, gasp, lose the game, some doubt will surely set in. What if the offense can’t recapture the magic it showed last year? What if the defense, despite all its turnover, is still a sieve? What if all the talk of improvement makes them play tight? After all, this is a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2017.
I’d be nice not to have those thoughts or ask those kind of questions. Not on Saturday or any other day this season.
No, this is the time for optimism, modest it may be.
While still not close to the finish line, this season represents a bit of a culmination of the work Fisch and his staff have put in since December 2020. The buzz that was created off the field has given way to excellent recruiting which, hopefully, will now turn into better football.
Better football led to five wins last season. It helped bring about another monster offseason with regards to commitments. That’s all well and good. But it’s not enough, not anymore.
Arizona is not the program it was just a few years ago, that much is clear. It is in better shape in pretty much every way a program could be. The only thing left to do is the hardest, and that’s win.
Unlike recent seasons, one need not hope Arizona can do it. Instead, one should expect it. The 2023 Arizona Wildcats are good enough to make it to a bowl game.
Just how it should be.