It was no Comeback-to-Back but it turned out to be a pretty good Wildcat weekend after all.
Two days after the worst loss of the season the Arizona football team received the best news possible and accepted an invite to play Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
The weekend could not have started worse. The Pac-12 Championship Game turned into Oregeddon as the Ducks dominated every aspect of the contest. The guys from Eugene played like they wanted to pay Arizona back for the last two meetings and save up enough credit to avenge a couple future defeats. Marcus Mariota was so good they’re not only going to give him the Heisman Trophy, they might even give him Gino Torretta’s Heisman to finally right that wrong.
So the UA’s dream season did not end without a blowout loss but the pain among Wildcat Universe did not last long.
The sun did in fact come up on Friday’s tomorrow. Basketball did what Basketball does, taking down a top-10 Gonzaga team to further cement the UA as the best in the west. Then Arizona got all the help it needed on football fields across the country as all four teams ranked behind the Wildcats lost on Saturday. Wisconsin was even kind enough to ensure 51-13 was not the worst beatdown of the weekend.
The result was the Cats stayed in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings and were rewarded with home-state advantage in a New Year’s Six bowl game. Less than 48 hours after falling flat on the big stage, Redemption U learned it was getting one last second chance.
Now Arizona will try to avoid the fate of the prior three Pac-12 title game losers. ASU last year and UCLA the previous two seasons all lost their bowl games after failing to win the conference championship.
The UA’s big advantage in that regard is, under the old system, the Sun Devils and Bruins dropped down to two Holiday Bowls and a Fight Hunger Bowl, which were all viewed as a letdown after playing for the Pac-12 crown.
Nobody in Red and Blue will be looking down on the trip to Glendale.
Some people will say the Wildcats are in a no-win situation due to being matched up with the participant from the “Group of Five.” That may have been the case if someone like Marshall had been the opponent but this is Boise State, the blue-turf bludgeoners who won more BCS bowls than any Pac-12 school at the time not named USC, Oregon or Stanford.
Not only that but it’s Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. They’re going to show the clip of the Statue of Liberty play 50,000 times leading up to the game. Playing the Broncos on this field will be like playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” with Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock or “Eat It” with “Weird Al” Yankovic at the Minnesota State Fair.
It becomes easy to reframe the results of the past few days. You no longer view it as another instance of the basketball team covering for the football program. You’re now free to remember it as the time Arizona scored a top-10 hoops win and a Fiesta Bowl bid on consecutive days.
Don’t complain about the loss in the Pac-12 Championship Game costing the Wildcats a chance at the College Football Playoff; celebrate the win in the Territorial Cup game being the difference between the Fiesta Bowl and the Sun Bowl.
Besides, it’s pretty clear now the UA wouldn’t have made the bracket even with a second win over Oregon. If TCU, the No. 3 team in last week’s rankings, didn’t get in, the No. 7 team wasn’t going to get there with all the top seeds winning their conference championship games.
So at the end of the day we were right. Once Arizona won the Pac-12 South the Wildcats were headed for the Fiesta Bowl regardless of the outcome in Santa Clara. It doesn’t take away from the missed opportunity to end eight decades of waiting but when you still take home a huge prize, the disappointment of finishing second isn’t quite as bad.
Rich Rodriguez and the Cats exceeded all expectations in the 2014 regular season. A rivalry game victory, a division title and two wins away from the Final Four. It compares favorably to a Sweet Sixteen season on the hardwood, which is a great accomplishment for a program that had “missed the tournament” for 15 years.
After Friday no Wildcat was in the mood to party. By Sunday afternoon Arizona was once again ready to Fiesta.
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