With the exception of the Cal game, Arizona played pretty well. They had chances to win against Utah and Purdue and traded punches with USC for over 45 minutes. While they only came away with the win over NAU, they did show they were an improved team.
Now they are on the back nine and things seem a bit easier. Four of the next five are at home and one of the road games is against a suspect Oregon State team. Stanford and Washington appear to be the two weakest teams (other than the Lumberjacks) on the slate.
Arizona will be favored against Stanford and Washington and a win in Corvallis would only be a minor upset. They will be underdogs against the rest of the slate, but all have their weaknesses and if Arizona plays like they did against USC, they have at least an outside shot at an upset or two.
All of this is great, but none of this means anything if the Cats can't beat the Cardinal. Although Stanford is coming off a win at Washington State, this is the same team that lost a game against D-IAA Cal Davis.
Fans and players are confident after the USC game. While it was obvious that USC was superior at just about every position, the Cats had the moxie and fortitude to hang around with the Trojans, making the most of their opportunities.
That confidence is a 180-degree turn from the Cal game where the Cats played one of their worst games of the Mike Stoops era.
Wildcat fans are back on the bandwagon, but that will only continue if the Cats come away Saturday with a win. They can't stumble against the Cardinal and keep the goodwill going. They need to beat a team that is perceived, at least by the hometown fans (and Vegas) as being inferior.
The fans will excuse a well-played loss against Oregon and UCLA, but losses to the Cardinal and the Huskies are setbacks. The Cats need to show improvements and losing to those two programs won't cut it.
Of course, fans in Palo Alto and Seattle probably say the same thing about losing to the Wildcats. Those fan bases expect their teams to beat the Wildcats because the Cats have been down for the past six seasons.
Arizona is not a completely healthy team, but they are getting closer to fielding their top athletes. Ronnie Palmer and Spencer Larsen are back to shore up the decimated linebacking unit. Dane Krogstad is out and Randy Sims won't be 100 percent all season, but this group will have as many play makers as they have had all season.
The Cats need to go out and play their game. They need Richard Kovalcheck to play within himself and still make plays. They need the running game to step up and take some pressure off the passing game.
On defense they need to slow the opposing run game. Stanford does a decent job on the ground and they will want to dominate the time of possession. The Cats need the thin front four and the backers to slow things up and force Trent Edwards to put the ball in the air.
The Cats seem on their way, but need to keep playing at a high level. They need wins down the stretch to show the fans, the players and recruits that the program is indeed getting closer to where it needs to be.
The first step is Saturday. The first stepping stone is Stanford. A win and things are all right. A loss and fans start to wonder again.