“All of a sudden we’re no good? I don’t buy that. We haven’t lost a home game by more than seven points in three years.”
Those were the words of Mike Stoops in August. The Arizona Wildcats are about to put them to the test in a big way.
It’s a valid indicator. People may complain about “moral victories” but margin of defeat is a legitimate way to measure progress. That was Stoops’ point before the season.
The problem is the current margins are showing regress.
To look for trends I examined Arizona’s scores against teams that finished the year in the AP Top 25. So, for example, last year’s win against an Iowa team that ended up unranked isn’t included.
To establish a baseline (i.e., rock bottom) here are the scores from the John Mackovic era:
Forget moral victories; those are some immoral defeats.
Now for the scores under Rebuilding Stoops:
Similar totals on offense but significant improvement on the defensive side. On to Average Stoops:
A decrease in point production but another step forward on D to get the margins even closer. Here are the Good Stoops numbers from the two eight-win seasons:
Now the offense gets going to make up for a step back on defense.
You’ll notice one of those scores is not like the others. If you use logic and split things before the Holiday Bowl the good averages change to 25.1 points for, and 25.8 points against. A program appears to be on the cusp of the Top 25 when it can play the Top 25 even.
But the UA has backed off the cusp significantly. Are we back to Average Stoops?
If you look at the raw scores “Average” is generous. The margins are eerily Mackovician.
To be fair the Cats didn’t get a chance to play anyone ranked in the 20s last year. But Average Stoops had a seven-point road loss to #3 USC in 2007 and Good Stoops had a seven-point home loss to #3 USC in 2008 and a 10-point road loss to #7 Iowa in 2009.
Another caveat is the last five games against ranked teams were all away from home. That’s where the above quote comes in and why it’ll be very interesting to see how the Wildcats perform against Stanford at Arizona Stadium this Saturday.
It’s also worth noting that even if the current ugly streak extends to seven games, the last six blowouts will be against the same three teams. Maybe the moral of the story is don’t schedule Oklahoma State anymore (thanks, Jim Click), and be glad Oregon and Stanford are in the Pac-12 North.
The numbers suggest the end of the 2009 regular season was a turning point. What happened between then and the Nebraska game? Defensive coordinator Mark Stoops took another job and offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes ended up leaving to become a head coach. Maybe it’s just that simple. Paging Dr. Anae?
Injuries also can’t be ignored when it comes to the most recent shellacking. If the Cats play a ranked team in the back half of the schedule (ASU?) will they have better results with a few extra starters back?
Blowout losses don’t change anything about this year’s goals. Last year’s Washington squad lost games by 35, 30 (to Arizona), 41 and 37, yet the Huskies still went to a bowl game and won it. So the UA fan motto remains:
“I will not give up on this team before the Oregon State game.”
But long term? People can make Is he the guy? decisions any time they want, and numbers like this are making it easier for folks to answer that question in the negative.
For the record, I have not reached my big-picture conclusion with Mike Stoops. The plan is to judge this entire season when it is complete and then survey the landscape.
Between now and then? The fewer blowouts the better.
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