Are you ready to get back to worrying?
Bye weeks are a time for reflection. For players it means getting healthy and studying past games to correct mistakes. For fans it means watching other teams play and figuring out how your team stacks up.
How does one stack the Cats at this juncture? Quite well, thank you.
This week off was the first checkpoint on our original roadmap to a second straight bowl game. The preseason goal was to be 2-2 after four games so it’s a pleasant surprise to be a game better than that.
What hasn’t changed is the need to be no worse than 6-2 after the WSU game. The next four games are at Washington, then the Stanford/UCLA/WSU homestand. We need to win three of the next four to have a realistic chance at a winning record, and if we want to have a shot at doing bigger things we need all four.
The OSU win was great, but it only lessens the pressure a little bit. This is the time to get things done. The final third of the season will allow for some nothing-to-lose contests, but they’ll only be for pride if the Cats don’t take care of business the rest of October.
Historically, that business has been neglected. October has been Mike Stoops’ worst month as he owns a 5-15 career record (and that’s after a 2-2 showing last year). This is normally the time of year when a bad Wildcat loss takes away any early-season momentum and leaves the team staggering between decent and disaster.
Will this year be different? In a season that will reveal a lot about the program’s future potential, a successful start to conference play would be a welcome change. Winning enough in the middle of the season to make the end of the season worth something would be a big step.
The next challenge is a trip to Seattle for the last of three consecutive road games. My call to root against a fellow Pac-10 team as they took on hallowed Notre Dame wasn’t popular, but the UW game couldn’t have gone any better from a UA point of view. The Huskies played an exhausting game 2,000 miles from home and had their hearts ripped out with a controversial finish. All the talk will be about how they’ve moved on and they’re only focused on Arizona, but you know they’re going to spend at least part of the week stewing about how they got shafted in South Bend.
But whatever mental edge the refreshed Wildcats have will quickly dissipate if they don’t bring a physical intensity. The defense especially will be tested these next two games and the emergence of some men will be required. Jake Locker, Chris Polk and Toby Gerhart are burly dudes. Have our guys toughened up since the Iowa game?
This segment of the season takes on additional significance in that we’re facing the teams that look like our biggest competition for the Pac-10’s precious bowl slots. Washington is very much in the picture thanks to their USC win. Stanford is just two wins away from bowl eligibility. Even though UCLA struggled this past weekend the Bruins have the advantage of only needing three Pac-10 wins thanks to their undefeated non-conference performance. Three wins are all it would take, too, since the L.A. market would make UCLA an easy pick in a tie-breaker situation.
It’s safe to assume USC and Oregon are going bowling. On the other end of the standings, WSU was out of the running the day training camp opened. It’s looking safer to include ASU on the excluded list after their horrible showing against Oregon State. This is supposed to be the easy portion of their schedule and the upcoming games against Washington and Stanford don’t look nearly as promising for the Devils as they once did.
(Speaking of our neighbors to the north, when it comes to bragging rights the next best thing to a head to head win is having your rival get embarrassed at home against the same team you beat on the road just seven days earlier. I encourage you to take full advantage this week.)
So with two teams in the bowl parade and two teams out that leaves six teams for four bids. We’re 1-0 against the middle five with the other four teams all coming up.
Let’s get stacking.