When Arizona takes the field Saturday afternoon against USC fans should be treated to a pair of teams who on paper are evenly matches. Both teams are 5-3 in conference and tied for fourth place along with Cal. Both teams appear to be playing for a shot at the Holiday Bowl, assuming Oregon beats Oregon State Thursday night.
That is where the similarities end. USC is 8-3 and having a “down year”. Arizona is 7-4 and trying to have a very good season if they can pick off the Trojans.
Maybe the rosters are the biggest difference. Arizona has just four players who received written offers from USC and maybe half a dozen more who had some kind of serious interest from the Trojans in the recruiting process. Conversely, there are probably at least 50 Trojan players the Cats would have loved to land in recruiting.
For many of the players on the Wildcat team, this game features a lot of motivation.
“A lot of the guys who come here, some of the guys tried to go to USC, some didn’t,” said Vaughn Dotsy. “It’s kind of a slap in the face to some of us, to prove that we are good enough to play with you guys, to get you guys, to beat you. Some of us are going to be up for this game.”
What has been interesting is just how tough the Cats have played the Trojans, despite having a roster of players who were not “USC good”. The Cats lost late each of the past two years. Two years ago the Trojans needed to score 10 consecutive fourth quarter points to beat the Wildcats, including a 6:12 final drive to set up a field goal and give the Cats less than a minute to come back.
Last year the Trojans won 17-10 thanks to another late drive that killed most of the fourth quarter clock and a bad personal foul that cost the Cats a second quarter touchdown.
The Cats and Trojans rarely go head to head in recruiting and when they do the Trojans usually come out ahead. The Cats landed Devin Ross four years ago, but for every Ross there is a C.J. Gable or Kris O’Dowd where the Cats did a great job, but finished as the bridesmaid to Pete Carroll’s bride.
Even of the four Trojan offers the Cats landed, none were really seen as serious blows to the USC effort. Ironically enough, of those players, only one has made a huge impact to date.
Devin Ross has been a very good player for the Cats. He has not developed into a superstar like Antoine Cason, but has been a very nice corner back for the Cats and has a chance to play at the next level.
It is also too early to make a decision on Adam Hall. Hall is getting some looks on special teams and is a reserve safety. With Cam Nelson moving on next year, he should battle for a starting sport and get a chance to live up to some of the hype he had coming out of high school.
The final two players with USC offers may surprise many. Although Michael Turner was the hero of the ASU game, his Wildcat career has been less than stellar. He has switched back and forth from defense to offense and back again. He also sat out last season for violating a team rule. He has been a nice special teams performer and will have a chance to replace Ross next year, but has mostly been a role player.
Jovon Hayes has been nothing but a career back-up at Arizona, having been leapfrogged by several players with lesser pedigrees.
A handful of other current Wildcats also got some early attention from USC, but never got offers. Either they committed to Arizona early or USC filled their position early and never pursued them further.
Among these players are Colin Baxter, who committed very early in the process, Nic Grigsby, Vaughn Dotsy, Solomon Koehler and Trevor Erno, another early commitment.