Sunday, April 23, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: ARIZONA
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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A spectre haunts the PAC Ten - the spectre of Stoops!
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 17-39 (8-32 PAC Ten) - 2005: 3-8 (2-6 PAC Ten)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 17 (8 Offense, 9 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: The 'Cats believe they can beat somebody, as evidenced by the foremost "What the fuck?" game of 2005, UA's 52-14 beatdown of previously undefeated UCLA in November, just the school's second victory over a winning team this decade. Five other losses - Utah, Purdue, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State - were within one score.
WHAT'S THE SAME: Arizona still failed to break the three-win barrier for the fourth consecutive season; immediately after stunning the Bruins, it was walloped itself by four touchdowns on the same field against Washington in its next game, the only conference win by the Huskies. So some sort of barrier - if only mental - remains.
THE WILLIE FACTOR CANNOT BE UNDEREMPHASIZED: Or so says the epic UA media site (more on it directly) about the talents of sophomore quarterback Willie Tuitama, whose "emergence late in 2005 caused the team to coalesce on all fronts like no other influence." That is, unlike predecessor Richard Kovalchuck, he threw more touchdowns (9) than picks (5) and led the team to actual league wins - a close upset over Oregon State and the inexplicable demolition of UCLA - in between close losses to Oregon and Arizona State and the equally inexplicable collapse against Washington, which Stoops has called "the worst game in Arizona football history." So coalesced may be in the eye of the beholder, but Tuitama is at least the definite starter.
WHENCE BELLWEATHER BELL?: There is less confidence in the running game, which lost 1,000-yard stalwart Mike Bell as well as top backup Gilbert Harris. The current trio of candidates to replace Bell has 311 career yards, all by junior Chris Henry. If only Reggie Bush would have tranfered here instead, as he stupefyingly did following the first season of every SMQ dynasty on NCAA Football 2005...
AIR DEFENSE WEAPONS: The top position on the team will be the secondary, where senior safety Michael Johnson and junior corners Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot have 15 career interceptions between them; those three were also among the team's top four tacklers. The 72nd-ranked pass defense doesn't look so hot, but it was only two yards behind Oregon's for tops in the PAC Ten.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Charged with turning out a Spring overview, most programs' media departments modestly list projected depth charts, returning lettermen and glowing coach profiles. Not so Arizona's athletic PR, which, sensing the rising tide on the practice fields of Tucson, felt the time was upon it to issue a manifesto for the unstoppable Wildcat Revolution:
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Viva los gatos monteses!
The proletariados have united under their leader, gaining humility, focusing on business, learning, as evidenced by the Ministry of Information's infallible decree - "Now that players are doing the right things the Stoops way, growth and improvement is [sic] exponential" - and resistance is futile. A bowl game is inevitable...The arch of history compels it!
Also, the offense beat the defense, 29-20, in one of those modified scoring-type Spring games.
REASON FOR HOPE: Comrade Stoops is always right!
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Comrade Stoops is...eh, 6-16.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Eliza Doolittle: rough around the edges, foreign to prosperity, but with potential, and a previously successful tutor willing to tap it - even if it tests his patience. Also, as SMQ favorite Audrey Hepburn was the only person associated with the 1964 film to fail to win an Oscar nomination, the 'Cats are the only PAC Ten team to fail to earn a bid to that great Embassy Ball of the gridiron, the Rose Bowl.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING: Okay, SMQ is going along. He is convinced by the force and persistence - the dose of impetus, if you will - of the manifesto: seven wins, first bowl game since 1998, contract extension (and maybe coach of the year nods) for fearless leader Stoops. For the first time, the blogosphere is peopled by those who believe - Viva la Revolucion!
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State
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In other words, will it possible for, say, every Pac-10 team to win the number of games you predict or is this being done by gut instinct on a case-by-case basis, with no one forecast necessarily dovetailing with any other?
It's still a cool series, either way, I just wanted to know.
They will beat: