Juron Criner can do a lot of tricks but he can’t do it alone.
Photo by Chris Morrison/US Presswire


The Arizona Wildcats’ football season of dreams has been significantly downgraded after a second-consecutive wrong turn in a crossroads game.

Gone are the visions of one of the greatest seasons in school history. Now the Cats have to win just to get back to Good.

It begs the question: Should there have been visions in the first place?

If a team is projected to finish in the middle of the Pac yet you truly believe they’re going to be better than that, but the original projections end up being right, whose fault is that? Does it mean the team underachieved if it merely failed to overachieve?

(Speaking of underachieving, the worst predictions of the year have to be the guys who picked either Oregon or Stanford to finish 9th.)

I was in the overachieve camp, but it was a realistic optimism, if such a thing exists. There was no assumption of wins at Stanford or Oregon. There wasn’t even pressure to beat Iowa. The positive thoughts were built on a foundation of winning conference home games. Arizona’s 2-2 record in that regard certainly qualifies as disappointing.

We’re used to seeing Mike Stoops’ teams peak in November. Sadly, it looks like this team peaked on Sep. 18, the date of the Iowa game. That’s when the Arizona Stadium crowd also peaked, and it’s not a coincidence.

The red-clad fans did not bounce back after the Stanford loss. There was zero energy in the air before the USC game. The ZonaZoo was silent. No colorful chants about Reggie Bush. Not even the random “U of A! U of A!” or “Ar-i-zo-na! clap clap clap-clap-clap!” It wasn’t that cold. Besides, doesn’t everyone have access to weather.com?

The Wildcats have three losses. They haven’t led once in all three games. The USC game started 14-0 in favor of the Trojans. The Stanford game was also 14-0 before Arizona got on the board. Oregon State led 7-0, then it was tied, then the Beavers jumped out to a 17-7 lead. I think it’s safe to say fast starts are really important for this team.

That’s where the crowd comes in. The fans are supposed to energize the players not the other way around. It’s not like the NFL where games are played by hardened professionals who have faced every situation hundreds of times. Emotion is huge in college football. If you want your team to play with fire We The People have to provide the spark.

The McKale Center basketball crowds take a lot of heat for being, well, old. But the fans know when the team is struggling and they never fail to rise to their feet and offer vocal support. The fact that the team often goes on a momentum-shifting run, again, isn’t a coincidence.

The people who occupy the bleachers in Arizona Stadium, especially the young ones directly behind the players’ bench, have that kind of potential. But you can’t just save the elite enthusiasm for the games when they hand out free pom-poms.

Worry about finding yourself and changing the world during the school week. Saturday nights in the fall are for changing 3rd-and-8’s into 4th-and-14’s.

I still believe the Wildcats – both on the field and in the stands – can beat ASU and win their bowl game. Nine wins.

It is line-in-the-sand time. A third straight year of 8-5 won’t be enough. Unless you shock Oregon you’re already going to have a worse conference record than last year (ending a streak of six straight years matching or beating the previous season’s league mark). USC’s Marc Tyler trampled on Arizona’s margin for error and dragged it out to the bus.

The next obstacle? Oregeddon.

It may seem pointless to have a bye week before playing a team averaging 61 points per game at home (Wilbur wishes that number was an exaggeration) but the week off is desperately needed. Get the team healthy and cultivate that us-against-the-world attitude. It doesn’t matter that Oregon gets just as much time to get equally healthy. The Wildcats are also refueling for the upcoming war on Dec. 2.

You have three weeks to buy some long underwear, dig out the old pom-poms and get ready to make a decibel difference.

The line has been drawn.