Rich Rodriguez

Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats have one last chance to win in 2012.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Good news: The 2012 Arizona Wildcats are playing in a bowl game!

Bad news: It’s not the date, time or location anyone wanted.

Once We The People get over the disappointment of the last ten days we will find that the New Mexico Bowl is a chance to cap off Rich Rodriguez’s unexpectedly strong debut season as the UA football coach.

There wasn’t an ounce of bad news to be heard after the Utah game. The Cats had won on the road for the first time and sat at 7-4. Arizona was favored to win the Territorial Cup at home. When Washington blew its lead against Washington State the UA had a chance to be the only 8-4 team in the Pac-12. A Sun Bowl bid was a strong possibility and the worst-case scenario would’ve been the Vegas Bowl.

A trip to Las Vegas as a consolation prize? Sign me up for that sweepstakes.

Alas, unlike Powerball, that winning ticket wasn’t printed in Arizona. The Wildcats couldn’t hold on against the Sun Devils and now we have learned that the UA slipped all the way down to the Pac-12’s worst bowl.

Frustrating? Absolutely. Frustrating enough to ignore the game and close the book on this team? Not a chance.

This is why we set preseason expectations. In a season that went up (3-0 start!) and down (0-3 Pac-12 start!) and up (4-1 after the bye!) and down (bye-bye, Cup!) it’s good to look back and see where you are compared to where you thought you would be.

It’s funny, in a year when few of the games went as I had envisioned, the one thing that does match is the New Mexico Bowl. I thought the Cats could win six games including Oregon State, UCLA and ASU. They won seven games including Oklahoma State, Washington, USC and Utah. I thought Arizona could win enough to get to Albuquerque. The Wildcats are going to Albuquerque.

This isn’t a time to dwell on the disappointment of Territorial Cup Friday and Selection Sunday. It’s a chance to appreciate the first UA senior class in 17 years to play in three bowl games and help them get their first bowl win.

RichRod’s first Arizona team earned a trip to a bowl game. It’s time to go to the bowl game.

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Now the challenge is getting there. Or deciding if you want to get there.

At first glance it’s a simple trip. An hour flight. A six-and-a-half hour drive. But you don’t have a lot of lead time. When you talk to your boss today you’re asking for time off next week already.

Then there’s the basketball game. Sean Miller’s team has one marquee matchup on its non-conference schedule and that’s against fellow-top-10 Florida at McKale Center on Dec. 15, the same day as the New Mexico Bowl.

An added bonus of the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl trip was the UA basketball team playing at UNLV earlier that same day. Even though the BasketCats lost it was an unforgettable double-header for UA fans.

No such luck this time. If you have tickets to the hoops game you have to make a choice. No commercial flight that comfortably leaves after the football game (ending at 2:30 or 3) gets you back to Tucson in time for tipoff at 8. So unless you leave the bowl early or you’ve got a charter flight you can’t see both in person.

I don’t have basketball tickets so I’m going to Albuquerque. The tricky part is I have family commitments that require I get back Saturday night. I booked a flight into Phoenix that will let me see the entire football game with plenty of time to spare and then – theoretically – land in time to watch the basketball game at the airport before driving back to Tucson.

This isn’t a Who’s a “better fan”? thing. I don’t play that game. Real life often gets in the way of our sports fun and we all support our teams the best we can.

If you’re going to the basketball game, cheer like crazy. If you can’t make either contest, hey, that’s one heck of a Wildcat sports-watching Saturday.

A huge day for the Cats is fast approaching so get ready (and be extra nice to your boss).

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Scott Terrell is at the mercy of the airlines. Dream of on-time departures on Twitter and Facebook.