At the beginning of this year, nobody had any expectations for this Arizona Wildcat football team. This was a year with a new coach and a new system being learned by a bunch of players with limited talent and who had been recruited by a different coach. Noone would have created a stink if Arizona could only pull together four wins. That was this year’s expectation.
But then Arizona went 3-0, upsetting then #18 Oklahoma State and creating so much stir that fans (including myself) were duped into believing the potential of upsetting Oregon on the road. Arizona could not handle the hype, however, and were destroyed 49-0. This was partly due to Arizona’s inability to show up for the occasion, and partly due to the fact that, well, it was Oregon.
After going on a three game losing streak to very tough opponents (Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford) Arizona rebounded with a dominating victory over Washington, and then, a shocking upset over USC. Beating the Trojans put Arizona one game over what people anticipated their win count would be for the entire season and put Arizona in a great position to go bowling at the end of the year.
Once again, the hype for the game against UCLA was monumetal. Again, fans talked of the potential of taking first place in the Pac-12 South, running the table and going to the Rose Bowl–things that noone ever dreamed Arizona would be talking about this late in the season.
Again, Arizona failed to show up. Last night, the Wildcats played their worst game of the season. Nothing–and I mean nothing–went right. Arizona was down 21-0 before posting their first first down, produced less than 300 yards of total offense, had over 100 yards in penalties and three turnovers. Matt Scott left the game early after a head injury and linebacker Hank Hobson was carted off the field in a stretcher. Agains Arizona’s defense, UCLA’s offense looked like the Harlem Globetrotters of college football, scoring as if there were no defense out there at all.
There is one fundamental difference between Arizona’s loss to Oregon and Arizona’s loss to UCLA: UCLA is not Oregon, and though UCLA is a good team, Arizona handed the Bruins this one in a gift basket. Hence, Arizona’s mental weak link has become apparent: the inability to hanlde build up, the inability of handling the implications of being a part of someting much, much bigger than where the Wildcats belong this season.
And that is ok. RichRod is still the best thing to happen to Arizona football in long time, and he has already succeeded in taking Arizona much further than anyone expected. The idea of going to a bowl game this year is still an exciting thought.
But Arizona’s inability to take that extra leap into the unrealistic may explain the lack of attendance this year. For a long time now, Arizona fans have gotten their hopes up only to see those hopes get trampled on. Regardless of whether those hopes are fair or not, people are tired of being flirted with and then dissapointed. RichRod is certainly capable of one day making these dreams come true, but for now Arizona’s mental inability to deal with implications brings back too many bad memories for many fans.