Mike Stoops has his eyes in the vicinity of the prize.
Photo by Kirby Lee, US Presswire

The case has been made that 2010 needs to be a peak season for Mike Stoops and the Arizona Wildcat football team.

How many wins make up a peak?

Now it’s time to put a number on it, and that number could be different for every fan. It’s the number of wins you think is realistically achievable and anything less will be viewed as failure. It’s the proverbial setting of the bar. It’s the Line Of Agonizing Disappointment.

Establishing a LOAD has been my preseason ritual for six years now. The goal isn’t to try and predict the result of each game but to break up the schedule and set a target for each chunk.

The first segment in this year’s UA schedule consists of the three non-conference games. A good team should win the first two games, even with the opener on the road. The Iowa game is a freebie. A win turns heads nationally but a loss doesn’t change any of the team’s goals. Oregon’s season wasn’t over when it lost to Boise State last year.

The matchup with the Hawkeyes is certainly an opportunity for the Cats. Last year it took seven games (and five wins) to crack the top 25. This year it would only take three.

If Arizona does end up with a 2-1 start, what kind of Pac-10 record would make the season feel like a success? Anything worse than last year obviously won’t cut it. Posting another 6-3 league record would produce mixed emotions but if you tack on a bowl victory I could be talked into it. A 7-2 Pac-10 mark would certainly be embraced as a success.

Let it be written: The LOAD is nine wins.

Before you start hammering your keyboard to point out I just got done saying this year needs to be a peak so “settling” for nine wins as a peak is a “loser’s mentality,” ponder this for a moment: What would the Cats’ regular season record have been last year if they beat Oregon? Which bowl would they have played in? Yes, 9-3 and, yes, that one. Oregon State would’ve finished 9-3 if it had beaten Oregon in either of the past two seasons, and the Beavers would’ve won the title either time.

Nine wins can be a dream season. You just have to win the right nine.

There are two paths to the Pac-10 championship from Tucson:

1) Win all your home games, split at Stanford and Oregon and hope the team you lose to loses to two other people.

2) The USC model, which is to lose to a bad team or two but beat all the good teams. For example the 2006 Trojans lost to 5-4 UCLA and 6-3 OSU but beat 7-2 Cal, and in 2007 USC lost to 3-6 Stanford and 5-4 Oregon but beat 7-2 ASU.

Both options leave room for an all-too-familiar Arizona Football heartbreaker: Wait for the peak year and when it finally arrives someone is just a little bit better. But if one isn’t going to go undefeated, one has to take one’s chances.

I’m big into checkpoints and this year it’s simple: Win the first five Pac-10 games. Nothing less will do. Beat Cal, OSU and Washington at home, and win at WSU and UCLA. Start 5-0 in league play and for the second straight season Arizona plays into November controlling its own destiny for the…I still can’t bring myself to say it…for the Nose Hole.

By that point we’ll know who the real contenders are so we can tell which games are expendable (like Cal last year) and which ones are for all the marbles (the GameDay showdown with Oregon).

So, yeah, there’s a lot of pressure on this team. When Mike Stoops and his national championship ring were brought over from Oklahoma it was to get into a position like this. It took a ton of work on his part and a ton of patience from the administration and fans but in Year 7, here we are.

The final step is taking advantage of situations like this. This may be the 7th season of Mike Stoops’ tenure but it’s his first with heavy expectations. How will Stoops’ troops respond in Year 1?

Nine would be fine.