It never rains in Southern California. There has never been a shutout in the Holiday Bowl. Nebraska has never beaten Arizona.

Never mind.

As we crossed the mountains heading into San Diego the cloudy skies tried to warn us this wasn’t going to be our day. As we sat in the rain with the time ticking away there wasn’t any doubt left.

If the N in ’98 stood for “Not today” the A in 2009 stood for “Anybody but you.”

The TV guys said it was the first time it ever rained on the Holiday Bowl. So in two years Arizona fans have brought snow to Las Vegas and rain to San Diego. Pasadena may never invite us for fear of falling into the ocean.

The only way the start of the game could have been any worse is if Travis Cobb took the kickoff and handed the ball directly to a Nebraska player. I feel especially bad for our fans watching on TV who saw we were already losing by the time ESPN switched over to the game. You didn’t even get to enjoy the minute and 15 seconds when we were still in it.

The team with the bigger name and the bigger star made the most of the big stage and their fans were ready for every photo opportunity. Did Arizona fans not make any signs? Or were the Qualcomm Stadium and ESPN cameras contracted to only show Ndamukong Suh puns? Suh-per Suh will Suh-n bring a Suh-nami to Suh Falls. Suh me.

At least we got to see a lot of fireworks at halftime. And I mean a LOT. If the ticket price was $60 they must have spent $58 of that blowing stuff up.

Talk about a bad week for UA sports. The Jimmer hoops game, the Holiday Bowl, and Gilbert Arenas just can’t shake the label that he’s a shooting guard.

We weren’t going to win on this particular night but a better game from Devin Ross could’ve made things interesting. His first dropped interception was a touchdown the other way which would have been a ten-point swing. His second drop was another field goal, and he was the guy biting on the pump-fake that turned into the 74-yard bomb (on 3rd-and-long). He played well enough to be in the middle of three really big plays but you wish he could have made a couple of them in his final game.

Devin certainly wasn’t alone in struggling for the White and White and White. From where I sat (in the very last row of the upper deck) there were two mismatches on the field. Nebraska’s O-line dominated Arizona’s defensive front. NU QB Zac Lee ran for 65 yards on simple read-option plays and he saw very little pressure when he dropped back to pass.

The other clear beat-down was the Husker secondary against the Wildcat receivers. Nobody was running free for Arizona. Nick Foles was having to hold the ball and try to force it into tight spaces. Of course, it didn’t help that the few times there was an open receiver our QB was horribly inaccurate, or our receiver jumped too soon, or he flat-out dropped the pass. That’s how you throw for 46 whole yards.

The one place where there wasn’t a mismatch was, surprisingly, Nebraska’s defensive line vs. Arizona’s offensive line. Suh had 2.5 tackles and a roughing-the-passer penalty. The Huskers only had four tackles for loss (Arizona had three). No, there wasn’t any running room, but Foles had time to throw against arguably the best defense in the country. So if you’re looking for a reason to get excited about next year start there.

Here’s your projected starting offensive line for 2010:

LT – Phil Garcia, senior – 2 starts in ’09
LG – Conan Amituanai, senior – 6 starts in ’09
C – Colin Baxter, senior – 13 starts in ’09
RG – Vaughn Dotsy, junior – 9 starts in ’09
RT – Adam Grant, senior (medical redshirt) – 13 starts in ’09

Four seniors and a junior. Add a junior quarterback, senior and junior running backs, and a senior-and-four-juniors receiving corp and that’s what a peak year on offense looks like.

(Well, there is one thing missing. If only we could find an NFL-caliber tight end. Hmm…)

(Forget it, I’m not proud. Pleeeease come back, GRONK! Please, please, please! Foles-Gronkowski could be the biggest pair to hit Tucson since Davis-Monthan.)

The flip side is the 2010 UA defense is going to be one massive question mark. A new coordinator and seven new starters don’t build a lot of confidence. Because of that it’s probably good that this team will not be getting an offseason’s worth of hype. If the Cats had beaten Nebraska people would have started printing 2011 Rose Bowl tickets. If the UA had been the team doing the 33-0ing we would’ve heard national title talk. Slowing down the preseason chatter is a good thing. We already lived through 1999 once.

When you step back and look at the big picture this was a very good year for Arizona Football. As we’ve talked about before, every season can be divided into four parts and this year Cat fans can be happy with three of them. The UA won the out-of-conference home games and hung around in the tough road game. We’ll call that a tie in part one.

Part two includes the games against the members of the old Pac-8. This year’s five wins are better than last year’s four so that’s a definite win.

Part three is the rivalry game. Arizona 20, ASU 17 is obviously a win.

And the bowl game stunk. So that’s two wins, a loss and a tie for 2009. Not great, but considering all the fears going into the year it’s a success. True, the ’09 Cats weren’t quite good enough to take advantage of the chances they had to do some great things. But the program took another step in the right direction and we shouldn’t let the Holiday Bowl thrashing cause us to lose sight of that.

Another silver lining from a loss like this is the motivation factor. The best thing to happen to the 2009 Alabama team was losing to Florida and Utah in 2008. Hopefully this humiliation can light a similar fire in the Wildcats that burns for the next eight months.

It could be just what this team needs to go 4-0 in 2010.