Fiesta Bowl scoreboard

Arizona has started small in recent bowls. Photo by Wildcat Universe

Note: This was originally posted in February.

The Super Bowl was at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Fiesta Bowl was at University of Phoenix Stadium. It’s the perfect time to talk about Arizona bowl games!

The Wildcats’ loss in Glendale last December continued a prolonged, puzzling trend of slow starts in postseason games.

Think back to that dreary New Year’s Eve. What was going through your mind after Boise State scored again and again and again?

If you’ve witnessed more than a couple of the Cats’ recent bowl games I’m confident your inner – or loud external – monologue was some variation of Here we go again!

The facts show it wasn’t just fan overreaction. After a decade-long slumber the UA football program returned to the land of the living in 2008 and has appeared in seven postseason games since. The starts in these 21st-century contests have not been good:

Arizona’s Starts in Postseason Games, 2000-Present

YearGameStartQuarter
2008Las Vegas Bowl10-02nd
2009Holiday Bowl0-172nd
2010Alamo Bowl0-141st
2012New Mexico Bowl0-211st
2013Independence Bowl7-62nd
2014Pac-12 Champ.0-132nd
2014Fiesta Bowl0-211st

Looking at this list it’s amazing the Cats won three of these games.

In five of the last six postseason games the UA quickly faced a two-touchdown deficit. The offense started slowly in all six games. These O woes are evident when looking at how long it took for the Wildcats to put points on the board each time:

Time Remaining when Arizona First Scored

YearGame1st Points
2008Las Vegas Bowl6:23 1st Q
2009Holiday Bowl-
2010Alamo Bowl5:41 1st Q
2012New Mexico Bowl1:52 1st Q
2013Independence Bowl7:51 1st Q
2014Pac-12 Champ.9:34 3rd Q
2014Fiesta Bowl1:23 1st Q

You could take your time at the tailgate, wait through the concessions line, hit the bathroom one more time and chances are you didn’t miss any touchdown celebrations, at least not on the Arizona sideline.

It’s easy to write off the Alamo Bowl because the Wildcats came in on a four-game losing streak and were outclassed by Oklahoma State. I’m also not upset about the Pac-12 Championship Game because, on that night, I don’t think Oregon was losing even if Arizona played well.

There are no excuses for the other games. The 2009 team finished second in the Pac-12, the New Mexico and Fiesta Bowls were against Mountain West teams, and the game in Shreveport was a battle of 7-5 teams.

Arizona has faced peers five times since returning to postseason play but has come out looking like big underdogs in four of them.

What’s the story? Irregular travel schedule? Distractions from family / friends / fans? Too many trips through the bowl banquet buffet line? It boggles the Wildcat mind.

The trend of slow starts extends across two head coaches so I’m not implying this is a Rich Rodriguez thing. Since it happened under both Mike Stoops and RichRod it looks like an Arizona thing. It could just be a seven-year-long coincidence. But if I’m the UA I would certainly analyze every aspect of bowl preparation and see if there’s anything contributing to a lack of focus at the start of these big games.

To make matters worse, if you list the seven games in order of prestige the UA has lost the top four. You can debate the exact ranking but Arizona’s four highest-profile games in the past 16 years were the Fiesta Bowl, Pac-12 title game, Alamo and Holiday Bowls and the Cats lost them all by an average score of 40-13.

If you’re looking for the program’s next step, there it is.

Getting into these big-time games was important. Playing in the two postseason games this past season was significant progress for a football program trying to build something that has never existed in Tucson.

It is now equally important to get back into a game like the Fiesta Bowl, to do so quickly, and to bring home some hardware. Finding a way to eliminate slow bowl starts is a great place to begin.

– – – – –