At first glance there isn’t a lot at stake for the Arizona Wildcats as they prepare to face Boston College in the 2013 AdvoCare (née Independence) Bowl. There’s no history between the two schools. Desert Swarm was 20 years ago and Doug Flutie played 30 seasons ago. The stadium won’t be packed with fans of either team.
But from the UA perspective, when you take a closer look at the collective bowl history of the Cats and their coach, there’s quite a bit to be gained on the morning of New Year’s Eve in Shreveport.
If you recall how things looked before the season, with all the uncertainty on the Arizona roster once you got past Ka’Deem Carey, a winning season feels like a good year. “Rich Rodriguez inherited a team that went 4-8 and produced back-to-back winning seasons” is a good, positive story. The Wildcats got the huge win against Oregon and locked up that seventh victory. Mission accomplished.
When we look back three years from now and the program is more firmly established, the outcome of this single game won’t matter. The summary of 2013 will be Carey’s greatness, the improved defense and RichRod taking a quarterback nobody wanted and getting 3,000 total yards and 26 touchdowns out of him.
Rodriguez has Arizona moving in the right direction no matter what happens on Tuesday. You’d have to be one of those glass-is-half-empty-and-there-are-water-spots people to argue against that.
So why even bother with the game against BC? Because it’s Arizona in a bowl game, and long-time Wildcat fans know a win over the Eagles would mean a great deal.
You can divide the UA’s bowl history into three distinct eras. In the early days Arizona went 0-4-1 in postseason football games with no more than one per decade before Larry Smith got the first bowl win in school history against North Carolina in the 1986 Aloha Bowl.
Next was the program’s rise during the Dick Tomey era. Winter football became a common occurrence as the Cats went to seven bowls in the 10 years from 1989 to 1998. Tomey posted a 4-3 bowl record including the two biggest postseason wins in school history: the drubbing of Miami in the Fiesta Bowl following the 1993 season and the 1998 Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska to cap a 12-1 season.
Finally we have the modern era with five bowls now in six seasons under Mike Stoops and Rodriguez. The Wildcats split the previous four so it would be great to get back to a winning record, especially for the fans who traveled to the back-to-back beatings in San Diego and San Antonio.
If you want to throw in a fourth era there was the non-era from 1999 through 2007. Don’t ever forget how horrible it was to be a UA football fan during that decade-long bowless drought. It’s going to be a long time before I can take a Wildcat postseason game for granted.
Arizona’s all-time bowl record currently sits at 7-9-1, meaning a win this week gets the UA one game away from a .500 all-time bowl record. A team’s reputation is built during the regular season but there’s an extra bit of program prestige when you can say you have a winning record in bowl games, especially in recent years.
For Rodriguez it’s also a chance to keep his Arizona bowl record perfect. Last year’s New Mexico Bowl thriller took some of the sting (only some) out of the loss of the Territorial Cup and more medicine is needed after an even worse loss to ASU this year.
In addition, a victory in Shreveport would even RichRod’s personal bowl record, which would be significant since he lost his first three at West Virginia. Rodriguez won his last two bowls with the Mountaineers (and his team won the Fiesta Bowl after he left for Michigan following the 2007 season) then he lost his only bowl appearance with the Wolverines. Getting his bowl record to 4-4 (including wins in four of his last five) would be another signal that Rodriguez is moving toward repeating what he did at WVU instead of what went down at U-M.
No, the season will not be a failure if the Cats cannot get it done against Boston College. Rich Rodriguez and his staff would still be able to claim program momentum as they continue recruiting. But that momentum looks stronger when you can say you ended the year winning two out of three as opposed to having to admit your team lost four of its last five.
I’m excited to have the chance to watch the Wildcats play in another bowl game. I know Cat fans – especially the ones who have been around a while – really want another bowl win.
– – – – –