Arizona v Oregon

Arizona’s QBs produced two more Oregon touchdowns than De’Anthony Thomas.
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

As Rich Rodriguez was preparing for his first season at Arizona he recalled a time when Bobby Bowden explained the four stages of building a college football program:

“First you lose big, then you lose close, then you win close, then you win big.”

Well, the order has been shuffled but after the first four games of RichRod’s UA run he’s already gotten three of the four scenarios out of the way.

Two years ago a ranked Arizona team lost big on the road and never recovered. The players who were there will be charged with making sure history doesn’t repeat itself.

It goes without saying the two sets of circumstances aren’t exactly the same. The 2010 season was the seventh under Mike Stoops. That team was 7-1 and ranked No. 15. Arizona was coming off a year in which it finished second in the conference. The players and fans had every right to believe the Cats were prepared to take a huge step forward in a game at No. 13 Stanford.

Instead, the Cardinal dominated from the start. It was 21-3 at halftime and 28-3 before the UA’s first touchdown. Then, in the crucial moment of the season, the Wildcats dropped a winnable game at home against an unranked USC team. The wheels fell off in the second half of the following game at Oregon and stayed off until Stoops was asked to leave.

Heading into this past weekend, the Wildcat faithful may have been hoping for an upset victory but it wasn’t expected or required. Oregon is better than Arizona right now. A lot.

The key for the 2012 Cats is what happens now.

The season goals have to be downgraded back to where they were before the win over Oklahoma State. It’s clear now this won’t be a miracle turnaround for Rodriguez in year one but other really good results are still on the table.

The common thread between the 2010 collapse and today is the players. All the coaches from two years ago are gone but the upperclassmen on this year’s team were around to witness what took place after that blowout loss at Stanford.

Once again the Wildcats play a home game in between Stanford/Oregon road trips. Once again a home win is needed to prevent what could become an extended losing streak. Have this year’s juniors and seniors learned from what happened when they were freshmen and sophomores? Will they be able to recover from the thrashing in Eugene much quicker than they rebounded from the stomping in Palo Alto a couple years back?

The challenge is this year’s Oregon State team may be better than that 2010 USC squad. OSU has played just two games and beaten a ranked opponent each time. The Beavers will be the third ranked team Arizona faces in four weeks (and it’ll be four out of five the following week when the Cats face a Stanford team that is currently ranked in the top 10).

Beat Oregon State at home and you’re 4-1 with two wins over ranked teams. The Oregon loss is long gone and talk can return to bowl dreams and rapid improvement under Rodriguez. Lose in Tucson this Saturday and the Wildcats will be underdogs in every game up until Colorado.

The true path of RichRod’s rebuilding project at Arizona won’t be known for another two or three years. Are there a lot more lose-big games on the horizon?

Getting another win-close this upcoming weekend at Arizona Stadium and avoiding Rodriguez’s first lose-close would get the Cats back on pace for a close-to-ideal debut season for the new coach.

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Scott Terrell will be back in the Cheap Seats Saturday night. Join him on Twitter and Facebook.