Litmus paper is used to determine whether a solution is an acid or a base. The last two games have felt like acid in the eyes of the Arizona Wildcats.
We knew the UCLA and Stanford games would tell us a lot about this year’s Arizona team. These litmus test games did not go well. Let’s get the ugly stuff out of the way:
• This is the first time Arizona has allowed 50 points in a game twice in the same season since 2003 when John Mackovic‘s final team gave up exactly 59 twice in the first four weeks.
• It’s the first time the UA surrendered 50 points in consecutive games since Washington and UCLA each dropped 54 on the Cats in October of 1991.
• Arizona had never, ever given up 55 points in back to back games before this. Even when Pop McKale’s team yielded 78 points against USC in 1928 the Wildcats bounced back to shut out New Mexico State the following week.
• The injury list remains long enough for someone to mistake it for the two-deep.
• The UCLA team that ran over the UA on GameDay just lost to ASU.
Yikes. If you want to hit that X in the upper right corner of the screen I won’t blame you.
Still here? All we can do is move on.
So what do we know after five games? There is no contender in Tucson this year. If that wasn’t evident after the UCLA game it was hammered home in Palo Alto. Arizona is not going to defend its Pac-12 South title.
But it wasn’t supposed to. The Wildcats were picked fourth in the division. That felt low at the time but now it might be a rung too high. If you rank the South teams based on on-field performance thus far it goes Utah, USC, ASU, UCLA, Arizona, Colorado.
The good news is the next four games are against Colorado and the three North teams that aren’t Stanford, Oregon or Cal.
What does Wildcat Universe do now? Focus on these next four games.
Oregon State, at Colorado, Washington State, at Washington. The hope had been those games would be a springboard into a rugged November that would define the season. Now these four games are the season.
Win them all and pull one upset at the end of year and you’ve got eight wins. You can also get to eight with 3-1 against the unranked and two big wins in November. That feels like the revised ceiling for this team.
A 7-5 record would mean a four-game winning streak followed by a three-game losing streak or 3-1 now and 1-2 to close the year. Both 7-5 scenarios seem the most realistic at this point.
Three October wins and getting shut out in November gets you 6-6. That would not be fun.
Splitting the rest of this month leads to 5-7. I want to say this is the floor but the way the injuries have gone you have to leave room for a 1-6 finish.
You also have the fact that none of these unranked teams are dead in the water. Colorado vs. Oregon was a seven-point game in the fourth quarter. Both Washington and WSU only lost to undefeated Cal by six. Even the Beavers only trailed Stanford 21-17 at halftime. And I guarantee you the fans of all four teams have now circled the Arizona game as very winnable.
So the new range is 4-8 to 8-4 and, again, these next four weeks are critical.
It starts with one game. Oregon State at Arizona Stadium this Saturday under the desert sun. If Anu Solomon can play maybe we finally see the UA offense at full speed. If not, break out the B.J.-Denker-against-Colorado playbook when Denker watched Ka’Deem Carey run for 366 yards in 2012 and then ran for 192 yards himself against the Buffaloes the following season.
Get one win. The Universe will look a lot brighter if the Wildcats are 4-2 with three more games against unranked teams on the way.
Do the results of the last two weeks temper the excitement that was building for what was hoped to be a peak year in 2016? I don’t agree with that at all. It’s way too early. There will be lots of time to argue about next year when this year is done.
All that matters now is the rest of October. And the October recovery begins with one win.
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