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Arizona Wildcats football: Season isn’t over because of September

Mike Stoops might be in a better mood when he doesn't have to play a top 10 team. Photo by Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

If Utah had played Arizona’s schedule, it would be 1-3.

If Washington had played Arizona’s schedule, it would be 1-3.

If USC had played Arizona’s schedule, it would be 1-3.

And, yes, even while Arizona State fans are giddy over a Top 25 ranking and the program’s first victory over USC since 1999, the Sun Devils would be 1-3 if they had played Arizona’s schedule … and everyone in Tempe would want coach Dennis Erickson fired. Right. Now.

Go through the college football standings, and you’ll find almost every team would have three losses if it had played Arizona’s schedule of Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon in consecutive weeks.

“Ninety percent of teams would have lost to those three teams,” Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.

“I mean, is that a rational statement or is that irrational?”

It’s rational. Gotta agree with him on this.

There has been nothing surprising about Arizona’s season. The Cats are 1-3 at the end of September and Stoops’ job security is the program’s No. 1 topic. I mean, who could see that coming? Oh yeah … everybody.

You might not like the way the Wildcats have played in getting to that 1-3 record — often stumbling around like the Boston Red Sox of September — but Arizona gets to put all that in the past.

Consider this: If the Wildcats can pull off a win at USC on Saturday afternoon, they will actually be ahead of schedule, so to speak. They will have “stolen” one. And then UA plays at Oregon State, which might be the worst team in the Pac-12 right now.

Is 3-3 at the halfway point still possible?

That would be the season’s best-case scenario.

Point is, put away the pitchforks and the torches until the Wildcats start losing games they actually have a chance to win.

Those three teams — Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon — beat Arizona by a combined 126-56 last season. They defeated Arizona by a combined 130-55 this season.

Hey, at least the Cats have been consistent.

Those three foes have just been way too good, each at historically high levels for their programs. They have made Arizona’s weaknesses look, well, weaker. The Wildcats are too young on the offensive line. Too young on the defensive line. Too injured in the secondary.

“It was a brutal stretch,” Stoops said, “and USC is no easy game as well.”

True, again. But USC isn’t a top 10 team. The Cats are entering a series of games in which — maybe — those deficiencies won’t be so catastrophic that the play of quarterback Nick Foles can’t overcome them.

“With a quarterback like that, I believe you have a chance to win any game you play,” Stoops said.

And a fast start would do wonders.

Arizona hasn’t led in any of the past three games, outscored 38-3 in the first quarter. The past three opponents have outscored the Wildcats 72-19 in the first half.

“We have to see our players compete better and not start to compete when we’re down 21-3,” Stoops said. “It’s easy to compete then. You have nothing to lose. I don’t know what we have to lose anyhow.

“Why we don’t play like that from the beginning … that’s not right.”

It’s not. And that’s really on the coach.

Arizona plays hard but, to borrow a phrase from former UA coach Dick Tomey, rarely seems to play like its hair is on fire. Or, as former Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes suggested recently, perhaps there is a “fear of failure” on the sideline.

Dykes, now the head coach at Louisiana Tech, talked recently about his team’s inability to put away games.

“So much of it has to do with confidence and your mentality,” he said.

“I was at Arizona, and when I went there it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have lost these games this way, this guy dropped this ball, this guy did this’ and I think when you coach like that, there is so much fear of failure.

“That is not the way that we approach the game. You have to try to go win and not be afraid to make a mistake and not be afraid to turn it over and have enough confidence to know that if you do, then you’re going to respond and get it done. That is confidence.”

We’ll see what kind of confidence Arizona has left.

We’ll see if Stoops can instill a “keep swinging” mentality he talked about this week.

We’ll see if he can inspire his team to turn embarrassment into ferocity.

The season isn’t over because of September. But, from here, the Wildcats can no longer point to their struggles and say it’s a function of the schedule.

The defining games begin now. There is no room for a misstep.

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