Playing season-opener at Toledo more risky than playing Iowa in Glendaleby Javier Morales on Aug. 13, 2010, under Sports
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In the recent interview UA football coach Mike Stoops did with Todd Walsh of Fox Sports Arizona, the controversial topic of playing a “home” game in Glendale was discussed.
The topic drew much conversation at Anthony Gimino‘s blog here at TucsonCitizen.com.
When Walsh asked Stoops about his thoughts of playing a game at University of Phoenix Stadium, Stoops said, “We want to do it …I’ve wanted to do it,” and he proceeded to discuss what it will take to make it happen.
“Getting to where we’re good enough to go away from home,” Stoops told Walsh. “You have to look at the opponent that you want to bring in. Going there to play an Iowa this year, I’d love to, we’re just not at that … you know, we need to be at our stadium.”
Stoops is entering his seventh season with the momentum of two consecutive bowl appearances and the promising development — finally — of a quarterback in Nick Foles who could play beyond his Wildcat career. With all due respect to Stoops, who was the best hire for the job following the John Mackovic disaster, it’s time to discard the booster seat and take the driver’s seat.
Granted, Arizona’s football program is only two years removed from a dismal stretch of 10 consecutive non-winning seasons and a 3-8 record just five years ago. The Wildcats have not been ranked higher than No. 18 in the The Associated Press Top 25 Poll since 1999. Because of this, I can understand Stoops’ hesitancy. But I also believe, given that Stoops has the program back on its feet, that it’s time to run and not crawl when it comes to scheduling risks.
Playing Iowa last year and this season is encouraging to the overall effort of playing the best. Like Stoops alluded to, playing the Hawkeyes in Glendale would be ideal. It would be a made-for-TV game with a national audience. The 63,400-seat stadium would be mostly filled with Arizona fans from Tucson and Phoenix. Arizona’s recruiting effort in the Phoenix-area would get a boost, although Stoops has held his own against ASU in that regard in recent years.
I think it could have worked this season under different circumstances.
If the UA did not play in Iowa City last year, facing Iowa in a one-game arrangement in Phoenix would have been a good move for the program. How it would have affected businesses around Arizona Stadium is a different story worth debating.
Essentially, playing in Glendale should not be categorized as a home game for the Wildcats. It is a neutral-site game that is played in Arizona, similar to when the Wildcat basketball team played Gonzaga in Phoenix during the 2008-09 season. Arizona had more fans, but McKale Center is its home, not the U.S. Airways Center in downtown Phoenix. The UA also was not required to play at Gonzaga.
In terms of being good enough to go away from home, as Stoops put it, the Wildcats are in their best position since the 12-1 season in 1998. It’s time to get this program thinking big instead of believing it’s not quite big enough. Think of it this way: How often will Arizona’s season have more potential for success than USC and UCLA?
Toledo, the UA’s season-opening opponent, recently scheduled a home-and-home arrangement with Miami (Fla.) starting in 2015. After Toledo plays Arizona at its Glass Bowl this season, the Rockets will host Boise State (2011), Navy (2013), Missouri (2014), and Iowa State and Miami (2015).
In recent years, the Rockets have secured home dates against Colorado, Fresno State, Kansas, Minnesota, Navy, Pittsburgh, Purdue, and Syracuse.
“When we go into recruits’ homes, it’s such a positive to be able to tell them that coming to the Glass Bowl, you’ll be competing against the likes of Miami and other BCS schools that we have coming here,” Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien told the Toledo Blade.
“That’s such a huge thing to tell your recruits.”
It’s true that Toledo has no other choice but to schedule top-flight competition because it plays in the second-tier Mid-American Conference. Give the Rockets credit for following through on that philosophy and securing home dates against Arizona, Boise State and Miami. Those three programs gain little or nothing from traveling to Toledo in the grand scheme of things.
At least in Arizona’s case Stoops gets an opportunity to return to his Ohio roots. The game is also a good tuneup for the Cats, who won’t play on the road again until Oct. 16, when they play Washington State in Pullman.
The bottom line, however, is that Arizona is playing with fire, especially with the mindset of being a two-touchdown favorite at a small stadium with a listed seating capacity of only 26,248. The largest crowd in the Glass Bowl’s history is only 36,852 against Navy in 2001. Expect a raucous, over-capacity crowd that would savor a win over Arizona the rest of the season.
Playing a dangerous MAC team on the road, especially to start the season, is more risky at this stage of Stoops’ program development than scheduling a neutral-site game against Iowa in Glendale.