After a frustrating night in Los Angeles the Arizona Wildcats are tied for fourth place in the Pac-12 South, looking up at two teams that have already beaten them.
The Cats are a good team but not ready to contend for the championship. Where does that put the UA on the spectrum of a college football program’s development?
Some will say only a “bad fan” would “give up” on the division race with Arizona just a game behind in the loss column. The problem isn’t the UA losing twice; it’s who those losses were against.
If you treat the five best South teams as a separate league the standings would look like this:
The reality is Arizona needed to beat either USC or UCLA to have a realistic shot in this highly competitive division. It didn’t happen. And that’s fine for this year. The burden of “needing” to win a championship isn’t fair to the 2014 Wildcats.
The team isn’t quite ready to step up to that next level. But what are the levels? Where is this program now if it’s good but not great? Excellent questions all!
Rich Rodriguez has talked about a program’s progression being “lose big, lose close, win close, win big.” Applying that specifically to winning a conference championship (and giving it an acronymy name), I present…
The DCD Scale
A Doormat is constantly getting blown out and has zero chance against the top teams. Hoping for “moral victories” is the best it can do.
UA example: Mackovic, John
Current Pac-12 example: Washington State
This may seem harsh to the Cougars (Cal last year was a true Doormat) but Wazzu gets the honor by default. It’s not Colorado anymore because the Buffaloes have lost three conference games by a touchdown or less including twice in overtime.
When a team is Competitive the margins of defeat get narrower and opposing coaches say things like, “Those guys play tough.”
UA example: Early Mike Stoops era
The 2005 Wildcats went 3-8 but lost five games by one score.
Current Pac-12 example: Cal
Four of the Bears’ seven Pac-12 games have been decided by a total of 10 points.
The next step is becoming Dangerous. This is when a team is good enough to pull off a big upset at any time but doesn’t have the depth and/or experience to consistently play well.
UA example: Majority of Dick Tomey era / right now
In 1992, Arizona beat first-place Washington but tied last-place Oregon State. Last year, the Cats lost to WSU, beat Oregon and got destroyed by ASU in consecutive weeks.
Current Pac-12 example: Utah
Very nice wins over UCLA and USC but head-scratching performances against WSU (a loss) and OSU (a double-overtime win). If the Utes lose this week to Oregon as expected they’ll be out of the race with three weeks to spare.
The proverbial “turn the corner” level is becoming a true Contender where you stay in the thick of the championship hunt until the very end of the season.
UA example: 1993, 1994, 1998, 2009
It’s sad that you can count the examples since joining the Pac-10 on one hand and still have a digit left to jam into your eye.
Current Pac-12 example: ASU, UCLA
The Sun Devils are alone in first place and the Bruins beat the Devils.
The ultimate goal is to become Dominant and start crushing bad teams, beating good teams and bringing home the hardware.
UA example: [404 – File Not Found]
Current Pac-12 example: Oregon
This doesn’t look like a “vintage” (i.e., two years ago) Duck team but at the end November we’ll look up and Oregon will have 11 wins for the fifth consecutive season.
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I’m certainly disappointed with how the USC and UCLA games went. Unexpected opportunity came knocking (twice) and seven of the eight quarters were dreadful.
But the key word there is unexpected. Arizona wasn’t supposed to win the division this year. It wasn’t realistic to ask Rodriguez to take over a Doormat team (1-10 record in Stoops’ final 11 games) and turn it into a Contender in three seasons. I don’t recall anybody setting those expectations before the season.
It’s very impressive that RichRod made the program Dangerous from day one and all indications point to Arizona finally breaking through to that next level in the near future.
So let go of the tiebreaker scenarios and embrace the rest of this season. There is a still a ton for which to play. A metric ton of tons.
Three of the last four games are at home. A 9-3 record would be a mighty fine regular season, correct? Getting Rodriguez’s first win against Arizona State would be cause for celebration, right?
Hitting both those goals would almost certainly allow the Cats to finish in the Top 25 for the first time since 1998 which would be a very nice step forward for the program.
Contendership is coming but it’s not here yet. Until then the rest of the Pac-12 will have to be wary of these Dangerous Wildcats.
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