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Arizona Wildcats football: Losing faith

Arizona's Kyle Dugandzic had this punt blocked and returned for a touchdown by Oregon State. Photo by Thomas Patterson, Salem Statesman Journal

“Hi, Chris. This is your old buddy, Greg.”

Too soon?

The Arizona Wildcats football team, following a full-of-folly 37-27 loss at Oregon State on Saturday, has lost 10 consecutive games to FBS teams. It’s easy to imagine Greg Byrne checking out that list of coaching possibilities that every athletic director has at the ready and starting to gauge the temperature of certain candidates.

That’s just doing his job.

Who would your first call go to?

Boise State’s Chris Petersen?

Petersen has turned down job-pursuing opportunities at all manner of big-time schools in recent seasons, so it’s not logical he would jump at Arizona. But things change, and he does have a relationship with Byrne (both were at Oregon in the mid-1990s) … so it never hurts to catch up with an old pal, right?

The point is, nobody on the Arizona coaching staff can be feeling safe, and Byrne has to be weighing his options.

With the loss at Oregon State, Mike Stoops just might have crossed a line of no return. Any coach who is into his eighth season with a losing record, on a 10-game losing streak to FBS teams, just doesn’t survive in this hyper-competitive business.

This will not come as a news flash to Stoops.

A close, recent example: Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe, now in his 11th season, went through a nine-game losing streak last season but he still managed to barely keep his record above .500 … and he had the 2006 ACC title to fall back on.

Stoops — while deserving of credit and admiration for pulling the Cats out of the depth of the John Mackovic sludge — doesn’t have any such conference title, any such good will, to fall back on.

His sideline behavior has alienated at least a significant section of the fan base. I see and hear few people lining up to give Stoops the benefit of the doubt through this troubling time.

The Cats have been consistently unprepared, unmotivated, at the start of games this season. They have trailed by double-digits in the first half in each of the past five games. Stoops says he doesn’t have an explanation for the slow starts. If not him, who?

The defense can’t stop anybody, abysmal against the pass and the run. The special teams … well, the less said, the better.

An incredibly difficult schedule in the past year, combined with more than a fair share of injuries, have contributed to the plunge to the bottom. The most ardent Stoops-bashers have to admit that.

But when the Wildcats had a chance to answer their critics with a game at previously winless Oregon State, they did all of the stupid stuff they have been doing against elite teams — and then some. Instead of hitting the accelerator and turning the corner, they stayed the course and skidded off a cliff.

The Oregon State game was supposed to be Arizona’s rescue shot. Get back on the fairway. Try to get to par — 6-6 — for the season.

Now, what’s left?

Ticket sales from here to the end of the season will be non-existent. Who is going to show up for UCLA on a Thursday night? Who wants to be at the season-ender vs. Louisiana-Lafayette? Even with a decent second half of the season, Arizona football will be a tough sell for next year.

When the fan base loses faith, bad things happen to the coach (see, Dick Tomey, 2000).

Stoops is 41-50. He should get a pass on going 6-16 in his first two seasons while cleaning up for Mackovic. But that’s .500 football for the past 5 1/2 seasons.

Time is running out for Stoops to show he can take the program to a higher level, and reasons to believe are few.

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