Some are born contenders, some become contenders, and some have contendership thrust upon them.
That’s not exactly how Shakespeare wrote it but it fits the Arizona Wildcats‘ sudden promotion to the college football main stage. It will take a UA win against USC on Saturday, however, to stay in the spotlight.
I had processed the post-Oregon euphoria and was prepared to write how the Cats weren’t contenders yet. Two wins against Pac-12 North teams don’t guarantee anything in the South race, even if one of those northerners is the No. 2 team in the country.
I thought Arizona needed to beat USC to announce itself as a true player in the division. But then USC lost on a Hail Mary and UCLA lost on two missed field goals.
The title of contender has been thrust upon the team in Tucson.
It was like the old cartoons where someone asks a volunteer to step forward but the entire line takes a step backward except the sap who gets chosen by default. The Wildcats were going to ride their upset win at Oregon into the bottom portion of the Top 25 and prepare to host a No. 15ish USC.
Eleven ranked-team losses later and the UA finds itself in the top 10 and the only undefeated team in the Pac-12. That makes the Cats contenders for…everything. Yet it all goes away without a win against the Trojans.
It doesn’t seem right, does it? Don’t you deserve a break after scoring a huge road win against a national power? That mindset might work for underdogs – last year’s win over Oregon helped ease the pain of the losses to WSU and ASU – but that’s not how it works for the big boys.
Last Thursday the Wildcats knocked Oregon off the top of the mountain. USC is coming to town this week with hopes of sending Arizona tumbling back down the slope.
USC’s schedule provides a chance to recover quickly from its stunning defeat. After this week the Trojans play Colorado, Utah, Wazzu and Cal. If they can bounce back from forgetting how defense works and get a win at Arizona Stadium they’ll be right back in the South driver’s seat.
And USC has that kind of talent. There’s a reason the unranked team is favored on the road against the top-10 team this week.
Head-to-head tiebreakers are even more important if the division ends up being a jumble of 6-3 / 5-4 / 4-5 teams. That’s why, if Arizona is going to stay in this race, the Cats have to win the four remaining home games. That would pin a second conference loss on both USC and ASU. If you then budget for two road losses you only need UCLA to fall twice more (Bruins still play Oregon, at Washington, USC and Stanford) and Utah to lose once (the Utes play Oregon and Stanford in consecutive weeks).
Stringing wins together is much easier said than done. If this past weekend taught us anything it’s that you’re a fool if you think about even thinking about overlooking someone in this conference. Colorado is the worst team and the Buffs outgained ASU, took Cal to double overtime and only lost by five to Oregon State.
Everyone else on Arizona’s schedule? USC won at Stanford, WSU won at Utah and scored 59 points on Cal, UCLA dropped 62 on ASU, Washington stayed within a score of Stanford, Utah won at UCLA, and ASU won at USC. There won’t be time to breathe until the final game is played.
Such is the life of a college football contender. Such is the new life of the Arizona Wildcats.
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