Arizona can still post 'special' season

November, 9, 2010
11/09/10
6:24
PM ET
Arizona's biggest mistake in 2010 might be being pretty darn good in a year when Oregon and Stanford are very good.

If the Wildcats win the rest of their games, which would include a victory over the top-ranked Ducks on Nov. 26, they will post a special season.

And if they win two of their final three games, including a loss at Oregon, and finish 9-3, they will post still a pretty darn good season. The program's best, in fact, since 1998.

Wildcats fans, could you be satisfied with the program's best season in 12 years? Heck, Arizona has already earned its third consecutive winning season, which hasn't happened since 1993-95.

In other words, as humbling as the 42-17 loss at Stanford was, and as hard as it is to surrender dreams of a first Rose Bowl berth again, there remains a lot to play for.

"We're still a good football team," coach Mike Stoops said. "We're still a top-20 team. There are a lot of possibilities out there. One game is not going to make or break us."

Of course, the Wildcats are wounded, figuratively and literally.

The literal: What once seemed like a wealth of productive quarterback talent is now questionable. Matt Scott, who so capably filled in for injured starter Nick Foles, has a wrist injury that will make him unavailable to play against USC on Saturday. Meanwhile, Foles, who started against Stanford after missing two games with a dislocated knee cap, is also nursing a bruised left, non-throwing, shoulder.

Further, tailback Nic Grigsby and receiver Juron Criner are battling sprained ankles.

The figurative: The Stanford loss was humbling, particularly for the Wildcats defense. Stoops found the Cardinal's final scoring drive particularly hard to stomach. Stanford went 83 yards in 11 plays -- taking 5:39 off the fourth-quarter clock -- for a final touchdown that killed any long-shot hopes for a Wildcats comeback.

All the plays were runs.

"The last nine minutes were kind of frustrating," Stoops said. "They were able to control the ball and just run it at us. That was the only part that was disappointing to me."

The key for the Wildcats is moving on. A visit from the Trojans on Saturday should help the focus. Stoops beat USC for the first time last year, and he and his players surely would prefer to head to Oregon with some momentum.

It will be a chance for the defense to regain its bite. Yielding 510 yards and recording no sacks against Stanford has stung a unit that was already aware of claims that it was "overrated" and that its impressive numbers were the result of a weak schedule. And luck Insider, not the Andrew kind.

USC will certainly offer a stout challenge. Sure, these aren't the Trojans of 2002-2008, but they rank 14th in the nation in both scoring (36.44 points per game) and total offense (470.8 yards per game). Quarterback Matt Barkley's performance has dipped in the past two games -- see four interceptions after throwing four in the first seven games and none in the previous three -- but he's still one of the nation's best passers. He's also only been sacked 13 times, so Wildcats ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, muted by Stanford, should be eager to get in some licks.

As for the offense, Foles should be more in sync playing at home in his second start back. Further, the USC defense isn't what it once was, particularly versus the pass. The Trojans surrender 276 passing yards per game, which ranks last in the Pac-10 and 114th in the nation.

Stoops said his team is in "survival mode right now." But that's better than a lot of other Pac-10 teams, which are in critical condition.

Noted Stoops, "There are a lot of people who wish they were in our spot, I promise you that."

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