As it became clear the Oregon State game was going to come down to the wire the fine folks at the Versus network put the following graphic on the screen:

CUTTING IT CLOSE
ARIZ: 2-15 IN LAST 17 GAMES DECIDED BY 3 PTS OR LESS

Underneath was a stat about how good OSU has been in close games but I doubt many viewers wearing Wildcat gear got that far. The first line was a big red flag in our faces reminding us what we already knew:

There’s a real good chance this ends badly.

For the rest of the game they beat us over the head with the graphic. OSU cuts it to three? “2-15 in last 17 games.” Arizona has to punt with 30 seconds left? “2-15.” The Beavers recover the onside kick? “Hey, have you heard about Arizona in close games?!?”

The list of 17 games – as you might imagine – goes all the way back to 1999. After going 2-0 in three-points-or-less games in 1998 (The Leap By The Lake and the Holiday Bowl) the Cats have only won two really close games since.

Do you remember the two? Go ahead, think about it. I’ll wait.

(Bear Down, Arizona. Bear Down, Red and Blue…)

Got them? Ready or not, here come the sad 17:

Oct. 23, 1999 – Oregon 44, at UA 41
The Wildcats had bounced back from the Penn State game to sit at 5-2 but this loss began a slide of four losses in the final five games to finish bowl-less.

Oct. 28, 2000 – UCLA 27, at UA 24

Nov. 4, 2000 – at Washington 35, UA 32
Both games this year were part of the five straight losses to end Dick Tomey’s Arizona career.

Oct. 20, 2001 – at Washington 31, UA 28

Sep. 27, 2003 – TCU 13, at UA 10
John Mackovic’s last game.

Oct. 11, 2003 – UCLA 24, at UA 21
Mike Hankwitz’s contribution to the list.

Sep. 18, 2004 – Wisconsin 9, at UA 7
The Rain Game. You were there in your seat if you remember Pour Some Sugar On Me!

Sep. 25, 2004 – WSU 20, at UA 19
Why, Gilbert Harris? Why?

Sep. 2, 2005 – at Utah 27, UA 24

Oct. 29, 2005 – UA 29, at OSU 27
Win #1! Willie Tuitama’s first start.

Nov. 25, 2005 – at ASU 23, UA 20
Why, Gilbert Harris? Why?

Sep. 2, 2006 – at UA 16, BYU 13
Win #2! Nick Folk hit the game winner.

Sep. 15, 2007 – New Mexico 29, at UA 27

Oct. 20, 2007 – Stanford 21, at UA 20

Dec. 1, 2007 – at ASU 20, UA 17
Cost us a bowl bid.

Oct. 11, 2008 – at Stanford 24, UA 23

Nov. 22, 2008 – OSU 19, at UA 17

There are 12 different opponents on the list. UCLA, Washington, ASU and Stanford each got us twice. Every Pac-10 team ripped out our hearts except USC and Cal.

The maddening part is nine of the 15 losses and only one of the two wins were at home. So in the past decade our program is 1-9 in games decided by three points or less AT HOME. And you wonder why you look so much older now than you did ten years ago.

Mike Stoops is 2-9 in games decided by three points or less and he’s lost his last five. That’s pretty interesting when you consider we’re 15-12 overall during that most recent span.

Five of Stoops’ last 12 losses have been by three points or less. Eight of the 12 have been by eight or less. Only two of the 12 have been by more than ten points.

Maybe that’s what we should be taking from the stat. The blowouts are in our favor and once we figure out the close ones we’ll be winning a bunch of games.

Last week’s Oregon State game doesn’t factor into the equation because we were good enough to tack on the safety at the end to eliminate getting beat by a field goal. When we win we usually do so with some breathing room. When we lose we make the other team sweat until the very end. That’s progress, right?

This program won’t make it to the top until it can win the close games, and you can’t win close games unless you play close games.

So when the fourth quarter rolls around on Saturday and the numbers on the scoreboard are really close together, don’t panic. Think of it as an opportunity for the team to grow.

But then root for the Cats to pull away. Just in case.