If you’re like me the Olympics were only partly about athletic achievement, national pride and parachuting monarchs.
The London games were mainly about passing the time from the end of the College World Series to the start of the college football season.
I am proud to say we made it. It’s Game Week. Now, what should we expect from the Arizona Wildcats and this Rich Rodriguez fellow in 2012?
As is our tradition in these parts, it’s time to establish the Line of Agonizing Disappointment, the minimum number of wins required for the season to feel like a success to a particular fan. What makes it even more interesting than normal is, for the first time since we’ve been doing this, Arizona has a new head football coach.
Normally when you have a coaching change all expectations go into the recycle bin. A new staff with new systems on both sides of the ball usually means a rebuilding period. Add in last year’s 4-8 record (the kind of record that tends to lead to coaching changes) and there typically isn’t any reason for optimism heading into Year One under a new regime.
But the Wildcats have two unique reasons for hope: eight home games and Matt Scott.
The UA hasn’t played eight games at Arizona Stadium in a single season since 1988. When you’re playing as many home games as an NFL team you’ve got a big advantage.
Then you have quarterback Scott falling into RichRod’s lap. Look at everything that had to happen to get to this point:
• Scott backed up Willie Tuitama as a true freshman in 2008 even though he only threw 11 passes all year
• Scott was beat out by Nick Foles
• Foles was really, really good
• Foles didn’t get hurt until the 4th quarter of the ASU game last year, allowing Scott to redshirt
• Mike Stoops was fired
• The guy who invented the zone-read spread offense was hired
Matt Scott was built for an offense like this. He was recruited because Sonny Dykes and Stoops saw the UA’s spread attack moving in this direction.
When Rodriguez was hired at Michigan, pro-style quarterback Ryan Mallett couldn’t get out of town fast enough. When RichRod came to Tucson, Matt Scott probably did a dance of joy.
Granted, Scott hasn’t taken meaningful snaps in a season and a half. It’s certainly concerning that neither of Arizona’s two player reps at Pac-12 Media Day (Jake Fischer being the other) played a single down last year. It’s also not recommended to be so thin on defense that you’re asking your starting H-back to double as your pass-rushing specialist.
But, hey, this is the preseason and the pre-era for Rodriguez. The judges are allowing extra positivity.
(I will say, though, whatever record Arizona ends up with this year, shave one or two wins off next year’s goal. A rookie QB playing six road games is a good recipe for a year that looks like a typical early season in a new coach’s rebuilding project, but we’ll complain about that bridge when we get to it.)
A senior quarterback with the necessary skills, an experienced offensive line, a decent selection of backs and receivers and the eight games in Tucson. Six wins and getting the upper classmen another bowl game seems like a reasonable goal.
To make it happen the Toledo and South Carolina State games are must-win and it looks like three wins will have to come out of the home stretch: at UCLA, Colorado, at Utah, ASU. That makes Oregon State at home on Sep. 29 a critical game, perhaps the turning point/crossroads/fulcrum of the season. Lose that one and you’d have to beat Washington’s high-scoring offense or run the table in November.
If the Cats can go into the bye week at 3-3 they’ll have four of the final six at home with only one currently-ranked team on the schedule. Another 3-3 stretch does not seem impossible.
I can’t call it a firm LoAD because of the coaching transition. Will I truly be disappointed if the team only wins four or five games but gets better as the year goes on with the young players looking faster and better conditioned?
So we’ll call six wins a GoAD (Goal of Achievable Distance) and go from there.
What if the worst-case scenario happens and the team immediately looks like it needs a complete overhaul with a lot of capital L’s? Then you have an extra beverage at each tailgate, heavy up on patience and keep this trend in mind:
At Glenville State Rodriguez won only one game his first season, then produced a four-win season and a six-win season followed by four straight conference championships.
At West Virginia he went 3-8 before six consecutive seasons with eight-plus wins and four league titles.
Even at Michigan his trajectory was three wins, five wins, seven wins and then his players went 11-2 last year.
There is no cleaner slate in sports than a new coach starting his first season. We’ll see if this team earns any medals at the end of the race.
* * *
I had a lot of fun playing reporter during a very memorable college baseball season. The team did pretty well, don’t you think?
Now I’m back among We The People for football and basketball, buying tickets and watching on TV. Life in the cheap seats.
My football cheap seats have been demolished the last two years, first the Red Zone and then the north end zone bleachers. This year we’re trying the southeast corner in the neighborhood of the band.
I’m curious to see how the new south end zone seats look. I love being on top of the action but I’m more of a stand-and-yell guy than a lean-back-and-use-the-arm-rests kind of spectator. If anyone has seats in the new section G let me know how it goes down there.
It’s going to be a sweaty September at the Stadium but you’ll never hear me complain about four home games in a month.
Let’s play ball.
– – – – –