Entering the 2004 season, many were concerned that the Arizona football team wouldn't be good enough to compete in the Pac-10 or against the two preseason top-25 teams on its non-conference schedule.
I, like many others, saw two, maybe three games as winnable for the Wildcats.
But only two games into the season, doubts have turned to hopes, and it has little to do with what the Wildcats have done for themselves.
Arizona looked competitive in the team's 23-6 loss to No. 15 Utah.
Take away the Wildcats' four turnovers, and the game probably would have been competitive into the fourth quarter,
Even more encouraging than the Wildcat's play was what I saw on TV in the games prior to Arizona's.
Six of the Wildcats' next nine opponents were on the tube, and none of them looked good. More than the Arizona football team being much improved, it is the direction of the Pac-10 that has me excited for the team's next nine games.
To put it as lightly as possible, the Pac-10 stinks. Two weeks into the year, this is how the conference - and the team's remaining non-conference opponent - has fared...
Historically the Badgers have been a running team, and this year's squad is no
exception. The only problem is they're already down to giving the ball-carrying load to their third-string running back as well as a true freshman.
Preseason All-American Anthony Davis is out with an eye injury, and the team struggled against Nevada-Las Vegas at home last weekend. Even though the Badgers are ranked in the top 20, they are very beatable. The game will be won on the lines, and the heat should help the UA linemen.
Washington State (1-1)
For a school that has won 10 games in three consecutive seasons, it looks like the Cougars could lose 10 this year. WSU receivers couldn't catch a ball to save their lives in the first half of their 21-13 loss to Colorado Saturday afternoon, and the Cougars needed a touchdown in the game's final two minutes to squeak by Mountain West foe New Mexico in week one.
Add a quarterback controversy between sophomore Josh Swogger and freshman Alex Brink, and it makes for another winnable game for the Wildcats.
The Bruins got their first win of the year last weekend at Illinois, but the Illini are a team that last year's Arizona squad could have beat. UCLA has talent in the backfield with the speedy Maurice Drew and powerback Manuel White, plus a quality receiver in Craig Bragg. But they lack a consistent quarterback to get Bragg the ball. This will be a good first road game for Arizona and another winnable game. The Bruins gave up 426 rushing yards to Oklahoma State in week one.
This team went from the Ducks to the yucks, nearly overnight. It began the year in the nation's Top 25, but made an early exit with a loss to Indiana in Eugene. The loss snapped a 21 non-conference home-game winning streak for Oregon, which came at the hands of a Hoosiers team that hasn't had a winning season since 1994. Oregon is beatable at home. Things won't get any easier for the Ducks,who travel to Norman, Okla., to face the No. 2 Sooners this weekend.
The Golden Bears and USC are the only two teams that the Wildcats face in 2004 who have played well so far this season. Cal has shown it can score points at will, putting 56 and 41 on the board in its first two contests. Hurricane weather permitting, Cal does have a test when it travels to Southern Miss., who beat Nebraska in Lincoln last weekend. The Bears don't have another home game until Oct. 16. Three straight road games should test this team, nonetheless.
Oregon State (0-2)
The Beavers looked to be the Pac-10 sleepers with their overtime loss at LSU in week one, a game they should have won. This loss was followed by a 55-34 spanking at Boise State. The Broncos are a quality team, but they did expose a Beaver defense that's easy to pick apart.
The Huskies have been on a steady decline in the last three years, and it looks to continue this season. UW was beat soundly by Fresno State at home, and the only thing that gave the loss validation was the Bulldogs' win at Kansas State. The Huskies have a quarterback controversy of their own after Casey Paus struggled a bit in their opener. Sophomore Isaiah Stanback, a Seattle local, waits on the bench if Paus slips up.
The Trojans are the only team in the Pac-10 that appears unbeatable, but that could hold true for the entire country. However, USC did lose to California last season, so there might be hope for someone in the Pac.
Arizona State (2-0)
The Sun Devils beat UTEP 41-9 in their season opener. Arizona, who finished 2-10 last season, beat the Minors 42-7 last year. Big deal. ASU also struggled to put away a bad Northwestern team. Randy Walker, Northwestern's head coach, even questioned his team's fire going into the fourth quarter trailing by just three.
So if you feel yourself getting discouraged with another football loss, find solace in knowing that weak competition is on the horizon. Even if the Wildcats aren't as improved as you'd like them to be, the rest of the Pac-10 appears to be that much worse.