Do we need the Holiday Bowl?

Does your opinion of the 2009 Arizona football season depend on the result in San Diego? To answer that you need to look back at your feelings before the season. How we react to things in life is directly tied to our expectations going in. What was your personal Line Of Agonizing Disappointment, the win total required for you as an individual fan to feel satisfied?

From where I sit the votes have been read and the decision is final.

The 2009 Wildcats are a success.

We all know about the Pac-10 media picking Arizona to finish 8th in the league standings but it wasn’t just them. The consensus was a step back for Arizona, and you couldn’t blame them. Take a look at this list of departed players again:

Willie Tuitama
Mike Thomas
Eben Britton
Ronnie Palmer
Marquis Hundley
Nate Ness
Adrian McCovy
James Tretheway
Joe Longacre
Jason Bondzio

Throw in GRONK! not playing a single snap and that is a ton of star power lost from last year’s team.

Now factor in the strength-of-schedule numbers and there’s no debate: #57 last year compared to #5 this year.

The bottom line is there’s no possible way to argue that last year’s regular season was better than this one. So what looked like a rebuilding year with a tougher schedule turns into a better record and at least the same overall record. This should not be understated.

Some people will point to giving up the lead in the 4th quarter against Oregon in a game that ultimately cost the Cats the Rose Bowl and say this team blew it. But there’s a big difference between missing an opportunity and failing. Yes, Arizona had a real opportunity to win that elusive Pac-10 championship. We’ll always look back on the close losses this year and wonder what might have been. But the fact that this year’s team – with all the circumstances heading into the year – was good enough to have that opportunity makes this season anything but a failure.

While I wasn’t predicting a return to the Mackovic years I was prepared to be happy with anything above “not stink.” In August a wise (and great-looking) man said:

But what if this year’s team doesn’t stink? What if Team Stoops replaces the most prolific passer in school history, the leading pass-catcher in conference history, both offensive tackles, and still posts a winning record? What if he matches or – heaven help us – actually improves on last year’s 8-5? The fans’ confidence would be reinforced, the media would have to admit that Mike Stoops might just know what he’s doing, and all limits would be removed as to how high this thing can go.

You know what? We’re there. Mike Stoops has already matched last year’s win total (and bettered last year’s season). He’s preparing for a chance to post a new career-high. As a result there is no ceiling in sight.

You can no longer know for certain that Mike Stoops has peaked. Last year it was an easy case for the doubters to make. Senior quarterback, experienced offensive line, favorable schedule = the best we’re going to get.

But it wasn’t. And win or lose on Dec. 30 we’re going to spend the offseason wallowing in optimism.

Do we want to win the Holiday Bowl? Of course. We want the Cats to win every single game possible. There is a significant difference between 8-5 with a loss to end the year, and 9-4 riding a three-game winning streak. Beating Ndamukong Suh and Nebraska would allow this team to finish in the top 25 this year and put Arizona in the discussion with Oregon and USC next year. Add in the always-beneficial recruiting momentum and there is a ton to play for in a week and a half.

My point isn’t to try and paint the Holiday Bowl as irrelevant. I just don’t want people to overreact to a potential loss to a ranked team with one of the very best defenses in the nation.

Even if the unthinkable happens and we get blown-out by the Huskers, or even if the unfathomable occurs and a pass bounces off a seagull or something, this has still been a very good year. And it is very important that it was very good.

Arizona Football is free to dream again.