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It’s been a long time since UA was this favored

Citizen Staff Writer

A Saturday smorgasbord of sense and nonsense: Fans have asked in the comments section of newspaper articles and on message boards this week about the last time Arizona was such a big favorite against a Pac-10 team.

The Wildcats, who opened Sunday night as an 18-point favorite over Washington, have been darlings of the bettors all week. As of Friday afternoon, the point spread was up to 23 points.

Not to encourage betting behavior (no, no, never, never), but since the question was asked and we aim to please, here is the answer:

A long time.

Well, OK, to be more specific, the last time Arizona was considered so superior to a Pac-10 team was, as you might suspect, back in the fabulous 1998 season.

I found two betting-line sources for the Nov. 7, 1998, game against Washington State, when UA was favored by either 23 1/2 points or 24 points.

For the record, Arizona won 41-7.

So, it’s been nearly 10 years since the Wildcats were this kind of a favorite. But what if the line for Saturday’s home game against the 0-4 Huskies moves even higher? This point spread might get really historic.

The Wildcats were such a low-scoring team for much of the 1990s that they never became huge betting favorites against conference foes. There is not another case in the 1990s when Arizona was favored by 24 points or more.

Anything earlier than that is going to involve some serious time in the archives.

Safe to say, this is rare territory for Arizona.

Chalk it up to a combination of UA’s sometimes-explosive offense and a woeful Washington team that is without star quarterback Jake Locker.

Now, the Cats have to deliver amid high expectations.

UA wanted Rodgers

Oregon State true freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers was the toast of college football last week, scorching USC for 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns in an upset of the No. 1 Trojans.

Do you know which school gave him his first scholarship offer?

Yep, Arizona.

According to an old Rivals.com story, the Wildcats offered Rodgers late in his junior season, which was even before coach Mike Stoops made a change in offensive coordinators to Sonny Dykes, hired from Texas Tech.

Rodgers, from Richmond, Texas, ended up with staggering high school numbers – including a state record 136 touchdowns – but his height (5 feet 7 inches) and lack of blazing speed didn’t interest many of the really, really big schools.

Dykes knew Rodgers – shifty and a good pass-catcher – would be superb in his brand of one-back spread offense.

“He’s more quick than fast, and that scares off some teams,” Dykes said.

“But, shoot, I loved him on film. He’s as good as I’ve seen coming out of high school for this system. He didn’t look like Adrian Peterson or anything, but he looked like a good one-back back.

“Those kind of guys are hard to find.”

Arizona ended up with freshman running back Keola Antolin, who fits the Rodgers mold. He’s 5-8 and shifty.

Antolin hasn’t had much of a chance yet to show what he can do in the backfield. He’s behind starter Nic Grigsby and has been slowed by a toe injury.

“I’m anxious to get Keola back because I think he gives us a little bit of the same dimension (as Rodgers), where he can maneuver his way through things,” Dykes said.

“And he runs harder than you think he does. I think they’re pretty similar.”

Willingham almost gone?

I haven’t seen a coach at Arizona Stadium with this little job security since UA’s John Mackovic strolled onto the field against TCU on Sept. 27, 2003.

He was fired the next day.

That’s probably not going to happen Sunday to Washington’s Tyrone Willingham – he has supposed administration support through the end of the season – but the countdown is on.

Willingham is 11-29 in his fourth season at Washington and can’t catch a break.

The Huskies were a promising 4-2 in 2006 when quarterback Isaiah Stanback, playing at an all-league level, was lost for the season with a foot injury. UW finished 5-7.

This season’s schedule was simply too much. Washington opened at Oregon, then played BYU and Oklahoma. Then, Locker broke his thumb last week against Stanford.

When the dust settles, Washington will begin the 2009 season with its fifth coach in 12 seasons.

Pac has bad rep

Oregon State squandered a late lead at Utah on Thursday night, losing 31-28 and dropping the Pac-10′s record against the Mountain West to 1-6 this season.

That helped cement the Pac-10′s lousy reputation this year, with little chance to rehabilitate it. There are only four nonconference games left, three against Notre Dame.

One of those is Saturday when Stanford plays in South Bend. Stanford is more consistently physical than the Irish, but one of the improvements in Notre Dame this season is the ability to throw deep, which is a Cardinal weakness.

Edge: Notre Dame.

Notre Dame will play at Washington on Oct. 25 (another edge to the Irish). The Irish are at USC on Nov. 29 (hey, the Pac-10 can win this one!), and Washington State is at Hawaii on Nov. 29.

Let’s call that one a toss-up for now.

The envelope, please

A member of the Seattle media told me Friday that “you will not believe how bad the Washington defense is.”

The Huskies are last nationally in passing efficiency defense and tackles for loss, and second-to-last in total defense. They rank 116th out of 119 teams in rushing defense and 114th in scoring defense.

They are the only team in the country without a sack.

Beyond that, they have only one punt return all season – for a loss of 1 yard.

Arizona, in its last game, let UCLA hang around a little too long before winning 31-10. The Wildcats have the ability to be more definitive against the Huskies from start to finish.

Let’s just call it a comfortable 35-14 victory.

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail:


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