Gate 2

After an 0-2 start in the Pac-12 it’s time for the Cats to move on to plan B.
Photo by Wildcat Universe

The Arizona Wildcats played 46 minutes of bad football against USC followed by a rally that came up one possession short.

The second loss in Pac-12 play lowers the season’s ceiling from the best-case scenario back to where most expected it to be all along. The Cats, however, don’t have time to ease into this new reality.

There are no more ‘if’ statements with the 2013 Wildcats. The goal is to make it to a bowl game, period. Root for the top Pac-12 teams to beat the middle Pac-12 teams and hope the Cats win enough to get to the top of the middle, all the while reminding yourself this is Year 2 of a rebuilding process.

But even that revised goal goes away if Arizona doesn’t start racking up wins immediately.

The Cats’ Pac-12 schedule this year is like a bizarro-sandwich. A couple slices of meat on top, some bead in the middle, and more meat at the bottom.

The UA has made it to the bread and now it’s time to eat.

Utah, Colorado and Cal are the Wildcats’ next three opponents and they are a combined 7-10 on the season. The problem is the games with the Buffs and Bears are on the road and Utah just got done beating No. 5 Stanford.

The bread on this sandwich may be a bit stale but it’s the softest chunk on Arizona’s plate. You don’t want to go into the home stretch needing wins against undefeated UCLA or Oregon. It’s not wise to assume a win in your rivalry game (ask Mike Stoops about that this week).

So this is it. Ideally the Cats win the next three and punch that bowl ticket early. Two out of three is the minimum requirement which would leave a home game against Washington State the week after UCLA as the last bit of bread-like substance on the menu.

Another thing to watch is how many Pac-12 teams end up bowl eligible. All this point you can make a realistic case for 10 of them which would obviously exceed the conference’s bowl tie-ins.

Even if Oregon runs the table and the Pac gets two teams in the BCS it only provides a postseason destination for eight squads, leaving two schools scrambling for a game. If would be good business to finish better than 6-6 unless you want to be stuck playing in New York in December.

Here’s how the league bowl race currently stacks up. If we assume Colorado and Cal are the two worst teams in the Pac-12 this year (even though I expect both to upset someone along the way), it’s a benefit to have them left on your schedule.

TeamWinsGames LeftLeft vs. Colo/Cal

Note the Trojans are playing 13 games since they traveled to Hawaii so USC needs seven victories to be eligible for a bowl.

The Wildcats only have the 10th-most wins in the Pac-12 at the moment but the UA is a game behind everyone thanks to the bye-heavy early schedule. The Cats are in the same boat as USC with seven games to win three and matchups against both Colorado and Cal remaining.

Dreams of winning the Pac-12 South ended when time ran out against USC. The Cats’ mission this week is preventing the goal of a second-straight bowl bid from disappearing just as quickly.

Eat now or go hungry.

* * *

After a failed comeback there’s always a fan debate about whether it’s worse to lose close or get blown out. The idea is there are far fewer maddening “what if” scenarios when you just get routed.

For this Arizona team, right now, it was absolutely better to have put up a fourth-quarter fight in L.A. and score some late points to make things interesting.

Quarterback B.J. Denker‘s floating jump-passes may not be a thing of beauty but now he has confirmation they can work. It was important for the receivers to show that their height (David Richards and Terrence Miller) and speed (Garic Wharton) can be used to make plays down the field.

Denker is going to continue to struggle with accuracy. He’ll throw some interceptions when he tosses up jump balls and he’ll take some 15-yard sacks with his long-arcing escape routes from the pocket. But now we – and, most importantly, his teammates – know he can also run this offense to the tune of 31 points against a Pac-12 defense.

We asked for an improved pace and we got it. It was great seeing Denker and Ka’Deem Carey visibly upset with the referees for not spotting the ball quick enough at the end of the game. That is the tempo the Cats need for an entire 60 minutes.

A couple more thoughts from last Thursday:

How crazy was that play where the UA snapped the extra-point attempt over everyone’s head but ended up with a second chance after a USC player kicked the ball out near midfield? I guarantee you if Arizona had done that the final score would’ve been 38-37.

Has anyone blamed the all-white uniforms for the loss yet? I don’t like that combo and it’s probably due to the Cats’ 1-5 record in them. People refer to the whites as Arizona’s “Stormtrooper look” but I seem to recall those guys losing too.

There will be no white jerseys this week as the Wildcats finally – finally! – play a home game. I hope I remember how to get to the tailgate.

– – – – –