Juron Criner

Will Juron Criner and the Cats take a step sideways?
Photo by David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic

The haboob of summer sports boredom is about to pass.

The first football game of the Pac-12 era kicks off on Thursday. Two days later the Arizona Wildcats host the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks at 7 p.m. in Tucson. If you need to get things done before the college football season you’re running out of time.

It’s also time to set your expectations for your favorite team.

Every fan should establish a Line Of Agonizing Disappointment before the season starts. A LOAD shows where you are on the spectrum of optimism for that particular year and it serves as a handy reference point when the season is done and you’re trying to decide if you liked what you saw.

For the UA, last year was a disappointment. There’s no way around it. It was supposed to be a peak year and the 7-1 start backed that up. But the losing streak killed all momentum and didn’t leave anybody feeling good about the season.

This year is the complete opposite in many ways. There is no talk of a peak season. The predictions are out and most of them have Arizona in the same mediocre spot.

You can’t blame them. The UA is replacing eight of nine starters on both lines. ACLs have been tearing like one-ply toilet paper.

The schedule is also rugged. Last year Arizona didn’t face a Pac-10 bowl team until the week before Halloween. This year the Cats will have played three top-10 squads before the temperature dips below triple digits.

Add it up and some will say the best fan strategy is to throw all expectations out the window and prepare for the worst. I can’t go that far. I still see enough talent to go to another bowl game and post another winning season.

Both of those feats would be monumental for the Arizona program. Four straight bowls would be a first. Posting four straight winning seasons is rare:

Most consecutive winning seasons in Arizona football history
10….1900-1912 (no team in 1903, ’06, ’07)
9…..1914-1923 (no team in 1918)
6…..1981-1986
5…..1926-1930
5…..1933-1937
5…..1939-1945 (no team in 1943, ’44)
4…..1992-1995

So seven wins ties Mike Stoops for the second longest streak since World War II.

That’s my LOAD. Seven wins. But there’s an asterisk. One of the wins has to be in a bowl game.

Nick Foles could leave here with every passing record in the books. He can’t go 0-3 in the postseason.

That’s my Line Of Agonizing Disappointment: Go to a bowl game; win the bowl game.

How do the Wildcats get there? The schedule easily splits into two halves, conveniently broken up by the team’s only bye week. The first half of the season looks like this:

NAU
@ Okla. St.
Stanford
Oregon
@ USC
@ Ore. St.

Arizona will be undercats in all five games after NAU. I think it’s safe to say there will be no 7-1 start this year.

Here’s the home stretch:

UCLA
@ Washington
Utah
@ Colorado
@ ASU
Louisiana-Lafayette

Certainly not easy with the three road games, but far more manageable. The bottom line is you can’t give up on this team even if the nightmare comes true and Arizona starts 1-5. A 5-1 finish is not impossible.

Obviously the road to a bowl is much easier if the UA can steal an extra win in the first half. Start 2-4 and the team can go 4-2 down the stretch if morale stays up (and the players upgrade to two-ply knee ligaments).

If they start 3-3? Better start adding heavily to that holiday travel fund.

Even if things go south and the win total isn’t where anyone wants it to be it’s not going to be a dull season. This team will not lose boringly. There will be lots of highlights in the passing game, and those highlights will be shown on a huge new video board at Arizona Stadium.

Can mediocrity be improved with high-def? You’ll have to draw your own line there.

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Here’s a challenge for all Wildcat fans on Twitter this year: Own the #BearDown hashtag. Some people use #ArizonaWildcats while others use #UofA. The former is too long and the latter is too generic. Make #BearDown your own. Fans of the Chicago Bears also use it but the Button Salmon tradition predates the NFL fight song by 15 years.

Tell them… Tell the Twitterers to use #BearDown…

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@Scott_Terrell will be admiring the new scoreboard on Saturday but will be missing the Red Zone. Look for replays on Twitter and Facebook.