The Arizona Wildcats football program recently announced a home-and-home series with San Diego State. You can add the Aztecs to the UA’s growing list of future non-conference opponents, a list that includes Mississippi State, BYU and Hawai’i.
What the list doesn’t have is big names.
If we define “big name” as a program that has won a national championship in the BCS era, Arizona hasn’t played a top-shelf out-of-conference opponent since LSU in 2003 and ‘06. Before that it was Ohio State in 2000. The Wildcats haven’t beaten one of the big boys since downing Oklahoma in Tucson in 1989.
That’s a 25-year drought without a marquee intersectional win. Based on the current list of future non-league foes, it could be another quarter century years before the Wildcats even have a chance at another one.
I completely understand the concept that winning cures all. No one will care about the non-conference schedule if Arizona posts 10 victories in a year. Win but a single Pac-12 championship and the Cats could play NAU three straight weeks if they wanted.
But until a program gets to that level, fans yearn for big games to rally around. Memorable wins fuel pride and the belief that things are heading in the right direction. Scheduling lightly minimizes your opportunities to bag those brag-enabling feats.
It also adds a lot of pressure to win conference games. You can get away with scheduling NAU, UNLV and Texas-San Antonio if you beat Oregon. But if that upset doesn’t happen last year? Would people have been happy with a 7-6 season if the only Pac-12 wins were against Utah, Colorado and Cal?
You don’t even have to always win the tough games. Arizona’s famed Desert Swarm defense announced its presence by taking defending champion Miami to the wire in an 8-7 defeat in 1992.
The thing is, I truly believe Rich Rodriguez is building a program good enough to once again compete with these teams. He’s not there yet, but when the final pieces get put in place, don’t you want to see what RichRod’s offence can do against the top of the college football world?
As it stands now the only way the Cats are going to get to play big-name teams is if they win their way into bowl games big enough to host those teams. Again, that’s a lot of pressure on a program that only has five nine-win seasons in its history.
I have a ticket stub from Arizona’s 1967 game at Ohio State. I own a game program from the UA’s trip to play Notre Dame in 1982. Why would I acquire memorabilia from games I didn’t even attend? Arizona played some of the giants of the sport…and the Wildcats won.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to add to my collection anytime soon. I will, however, save room for a very large bowl game program, just in case.
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