Will killer schedule leave Arizona Wildcats dead at midpoint of football season?by Javier Morales on Jul. 29, 2011, under Sports
Since the Pac-10 started in 1978, Arizona’s football team has played at least three ranked teams in its first six games nine times.
The Wildcats emerged above .500 in four of the first five occasions in which they faced this type of schedule — in 1982 (3-2-1), 1988 (4-2), 1989 (4-2) and 1992 (3-2-1).
In the last four such cases — 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2005 — the Wildcats’ combined record is 8-16.
In one of the seasons — 2003, in which the UA played four ranked teams in its first six games for the only time in its Pac-10 existence — the head coach (John Mackovic) became a casualty. The Wildcats started 1-5 despite four of the games played in Tucson.
Arizona coach Mike Stoops started 1-5 in 2005 when the Wildcats lost to three ranked teams in No. 12 Purdue (31-24), No. 12 Cal (28-0) and No. 1 USC (42-21).
Will he start 1-5 again this season with the same type of daunting schedule? Will that impact his future at Arizona considering he is in his eighth season in Tucson, well beyond the rebuilding stage of the program?
Or will Stoops pull a Dick Tomey of 1992 and prove that Arizona football is here to stay? After starting 1-1-1 against the likes of unranked Utah State, Washington State and Oregon State, Tomey coached the 1992 team to an 8-7 loss at No. 1 Miami followed by wins over No. 11 UCLA in Tucson and No. 8 Stanford at Palo Alto, Calif.
The Wildcats won three more consecutive games, capped by their most overpowering performance in history, a 16-3 drubbing of No. 1 Washington at Arizona Stadium.
Arizona this season plays four potentially ranked teams to start the season and another program — traditional power USC — that would be among the elite if it was not serving an NCAA probation.
After opening at home against NAU on Sept. 3 — a game in which Stoops must guard against the UA looking too far ahead — the Wildcats play at Oklahoma State, at home against Stanford and Oregon, and then on the road against USC and Oregon State.
Stoops said on ESPN Radio’s Scott Van Pelt Show that the formation of the Pac-12 this season “didn’t do us any favors” for what he termed a “pretty demanding” schedule.
“We got dealt the schedule and we didn’t have a whole lot of say in it,” he said. “It is pretty demanding when you look at the first three, four or five six games.”
What makes it most demanding is the quarterbacks Arizona will face in that stretch. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Oregon’s Darron Thomas and USC’s Matt Barkley are projected to be NFL quarterbacks in the next year or two.
Oregon State junior Ryan Katz is no slouch either, just ask Arizona’s defense. Katz was selected the Pac-10 Player of the Week last October after completing 30 of 42 passes for 393 yards (10th-highest total in Beaver history) and two touchdowns in the team’s 29-27 win against the ninth-ranked Wildcats at Arizona Stadium.
The Wildcats in the past may have faced a similar amount of ranked teams in their first six games, but they have rarely if ever played against five straight quality quarterbacks like this (provided they all stay healthy by the time they face Arizona).
That’s not good news for Stoops, who acknowledged this week at Pac-12 Media Day and during a tour of the ESPN facilities that his primary concern is replacing departed defensive ends Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore and D’Aundre Reed (all NFL draft picks).
All things considered, including replacing the entire starting offensive line, the summer heat is not all that makes Stoops sweat these days in Tucson. Stoops, whose team lost its last five games last season, has yet to endure a summer quite like this knowing the arduous schedule that lies ahead.
“These teams will demand more preseason time,” Stoops told Van Pelt. “We’ve obviously dedicated a lot of time in the out-of-season trying to prepare for the front part of our schedule.
“So they do get more attention just because we have more time to prepare.”
Let the sleepless nights begin, if they have not already.