Students are back in school, the streets are flooded and Wildcat Universe is setting its Line Of Agonizing Disappointment. It must be August in Tucson!
As always, the LOAD is your personal expectation for the team. Thinking rationally and factoring in strengths and weaknesses, how many Wildcat wins will it take for you to be satisfied with the 2015 season?
We start with 2014’s outstanding 10-2 regular season record and break it on down:
The Cats play an additional road game this season, including at USC and ASU, the top two teams in the Pac-12 media poll.
Result: Minus one win
Last year’s high-wire act has been well documented. 6-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer. 2-0 in games decided by a Hail Mary or the opponent forgetting to take a knee. It’s not statistically sound to expect a repeat performance.
Result: Minus one win
Comparing the starting lineup from the Fiesta Bowl to this week’s depth chart, there will be a whopping seven new starters on defense. Add the three new offensive linemen and it’s a cause for concern.
Result: Minus one win
The good news is the guys coming back are really good. Scooby Wright was the best defensive player in the country last year. Cayleb Jones and Nick Wilson have the ability to be first-team All-Pac-12-type players. Anu Solomon gives Rich Rodriguez a multi-year starter at quarterback which has historically meant great things. The 2015 Wildcats don’t have a large quantity of experience but it is certainly high-quality experience.
Result: Plus one win
Add it up and that’s an 8-4 regular season. Good enough? Not quite.
This One really wants a bowl win this year. Bowl games are my thing. I don’t get to go to road games. I don’t have basketball season tickets. But I’ve been to every UA bowl since the end of the Great Bowl Drought of the Twenty-Aughts and dropping my personal bowl record below .500 (with four losses in the last six bowls) would not be fun.
The only thing I would trade a postseason win for this year is keeping the Territorial Cup. Ending with a losing streak for the second straight season would not sit right but beating ASU to finish 9-3 would give the Universe a collective offseason smile no matter what happened in the bowl game.
So let it be written: My LOAD is nine, as long as the Cats hold up a Cup or a trophy at the end of the year.
How do we get there? Arizona’s 2015 breakless slate can be broken into four parts.
All three non-conference games. No excuses.
The first two Pac-12 games this year – UCLA and at Stanford – will determine this team’s ceiling. An average team loses to both ranked teams, a good team splits and winning both would mean the defending Pac-12 South champs are back in business.
Four games – Oregon State, at Colorado, Washington State, at Washington – and Arizona should be favored in all of them.
November will be rugged: at USC, Utah, at Arizona State. What makes this year’s schedule challenging is the Cats could start 7-2 or 8-1 and still only be the third-best team in the division. The South race will be decided in the Coliseum and Sun Devil Stadium.
3-0 in Must Win, 1-1 with the Litmus Test, 3-1 in the Business Meetings and 1-2 as Gladiators gets you eight wins. That would most likely mean a December trip to San Francisco, El Paso or Las Vegas to face a beatable opponent. That’s acceptable for a team turning over half its starting lineup from a year ago.
If you think it’s “negative” or “a loser’s mentality” to be satisfied with fewer wins than last season, I’m only asking you to wait one year. Looking again at the depth chart, of the 22 starters for the UTSA game (I’m not counting tight end), only five are seniors. Of the 49 players listed on the two-deep, 36 of them can come back next year.
So it’s OK if this is the “year away” team. In 2016 anything goes. Everything goes.
That said, Rodriguez has beaten my expectations in each of his first three seasons.
In 2012 I asked for six wins and he produced eight. In 2013 I would’ve been fine with seven and he posted another eight. Last year Coach Rod saw my nine and raised it to 10. You’re not going to get me to bet against this guy.
That’s what’s crazy about this. We’re talking about a scenario where 8-5 or even 9-4 isn’t enough. For Arizona Football. Doesn’t that scramble your brain, Olde Tyme Wyldcat Fyns?
If your memory stretches back to the start of the Larry Smith era you have only witnessed four UA football seasons with nine or more wins. If you date back to the days before Jim Young you can recall a time when Arizona had zero nine-win seasons in over 70 years of football.
Yet here we are, where what used to be extraordinary is now considered standard. How is this possible?
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