Rose Bowl quest begins with Trojans

There are those who may argue that the Arizona football team is lucky to be 2-1. And there are some that will argue that it should be 3-0.

Nevertheless, the team's 9-7 loss to Illinois last Saturday in Champaign will guarantee that the Wildcats will not win a national championship. (Of course, if they were Notre Dame, they could have lost to a high school team and still have a shot.) Simply put, the 1995 Wildcats were not national championship contenders by any stretch of even the most vivid imagination. Case closed.

They do, however, still have a chance at their most elusive goal: a trip to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.

Arizona's first step towards Southern California, begins with, well, Southern California. The Wildcats will play their Pacific 10 Conference opener against the Trojans on Saturday at Arizona Stadium. To win the game, UA will have to put behind them what was by and large a disappointing offensive effort against Illinois.

Say what you want about Illini linebackers Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy. Granted, they are big, powerful, impact-type players, but the last time anybody checked, there are still 11 players on a defensive unit.

In essence, Rice and Hardy beat the UA before the clock even started to tick. The duo carries such a reputation that teams are almost afraid to pass, for fear of getting sacked every time.

Remember, two players do not make a defense. The Illini gave up a combined 224 yards to Michigan's Tim Biakabatuka and Oregon's Ricky Whittle and gave up 72 total points.

If the Wildcats want to beat Southern Cal, they have to play to win. Arizona played to win against Illinois on just one series: a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped by a 17-yard touchdown strike to Rodney Williams.

Gary Taylor ran with some success (113 yards on 24 carries), but surprisingly, it's the pass that has been been the Wildcats' most effective weapon this season. Trouble was, they chose not to use it until it was too late. The old adage that you have to run to pass is true Arizona just forgot the second half of that statement.

If you are going to play, you have to play to win. That is especially true in the Pac-10, where one loss could be the difference between playing a bowl game in '95 or one in '96. Consider this: The Wildcats have lost just four conference games in the last two years, but have yet to visit Pasadena in the postseason.

Perhaps most importantly, the Wildcats must not let what happened to them in '94 happen again in '95.

Last season, Arizona lost to Colorado State after Sean Moran returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats lost 21-16. They did win four of their last six Pac-10 games, but crucial losses to Oregon and Southern Cal sealed their Freedom Bowl fate.

The Wildcats again lost a game last Saturday because of a fumble return. Whether they fumble their Rose Bowl chances this season remains to be seen.

Craig Degel is a Wildcat sports reporter.

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