Citizen Staff Writer
Arizona could be 6-0. You know it. I know it. The oddsmakers know it.
The Wildcats have been favored in each of their first six games, which make those two losses they’re sitting on so disappointing.
I will say it would have been unrealistic to truly expect perfection at this point – this team isn’t good enough to survive the inevitable subpar games that happen to everybody – but, you know, 5-1 would not have been too much to ask.
Two wins, then a loss at New Mexico.
Two wins, then a loss at Stanford.
An unsatisfying dance step.
“I don’t think about it that much,” UA coach Mike Stoops said of being 4-2 after Saturday’s 24-23 loss to the Cardinal.
“We have let two good opportunities slip by. That’s how it is. We have not played good enough to win on the road. When you are still developing, you play better at home than on the road.
“That seems to be the case with us.”
If that’s the case, the good news is that Arizona has four of its final six at home.
Bad news is that the easy part of the schedule is over.
The Wildcats could have happily skipped their way to tangible progress in the win column, building a cache of good feeling that would have lasted all season. For details on this, check out Arizona State’s 2007 season.
Instead, Arizona is right back where it started.
The Cats appear to be, as originally projected, basically a 6-6, 7-5 team with the kind of young and inexperienced defensive line that gets you beat.
Perhaps that easy schedule, asked for and approved by Stoops, will end up working against him.
Sure, it helped the team start quickly – well, reasonably quickly – but it also changed the baseline of expectations to the point where a 1-point loss at Stanford was considered by the message board die-hards to be, among the milder adjectives, “freaking disgusting,” “unacceptable” and “pathetic.”
It was more like this: One average team fighting past another average team.
Question is, after UA’s happy 4-1 start, would a 6-6 season and any old bowl berth be acceptable?
Back to scrapping for the postseason, Arizona can get there without the late-season signature upsets for which it has become known. UA is better than two of the remaining teams on its schedule – Washington State and Arizona State.
The Cougars can’t beat anybody and are making a run at being the worst Pac-10 team . . . ever.
ASU is a mess, losing four in a row, including a 28-0 loss at USC on Saturday.
Wrote columnist Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune: “The Sun Devils’ frustration boiled over to their sideline. Wide receiver Nate Kimbrough had to be restrained from going after one of the assistant coaches in the second half.
“That’s what happens when 2-0 turns into 2-4 and an offense can’t throw a pass and chew gum at the same time.”
Who knows? By the time UA and Arizona State meet in Tucson on Dec. 6, the teams might, more or less, be on equal footing. But as it looks now, the Sun Devils are like all the other teams Arizona has defeated.
They lack the offensive line and the running game to exploit UA’s pups on the defensive line.
USC can do that.
Cal can do that.
Oregon can do that.
Oregon State can do that.
Those are four of the top five rushing teams in the conference. Stanford is the other.
No coincidence: The Cardinal ran for 286 yards against the Cats, doing it with a power back (Toby Gerhart), a slippery back (Anthony Kimble) and a third-string quarterback running the option (Alex Loukas).
It is not going to be easy for Arizona to beat a good, physical running team. But nobody said this was easy.
Taking the Wildcats at their word, they claim to be a closer, happier family than in recent seasons. Heading into the fanged teeth of adversity, now is the time to show it.
If it’s not already too late.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org