Strong September will shape the season

Arizona plays five games in the month of September and there is a very good chance that by the end of the month the Wildcats could know exactly where they stand in terms of goals for the rest of the season. Sure a late season swoon or rise is possible, but odds are the Wildcats will know exactly what kind of team they are by the time we change our calendars to October.

There have been Arizona teams that reversed their fortunes, both good and bad, after the start of the season, but usually you can tell a lot about a team after the first five games.

In 1992 the Wildcats were 1-2-1, with a tie to a bad Oregon State team, and the town was calling for Dick Tomey's head. The Wildcats rattled off five in a row and wound up playing the John Hancock Bowl.

In 2000 the opposite happened. The Cats stormed out to a 5-1 record but lost their last five, thus ending the Dick Tomey era.

This year the team and the fans should know exactly what kind of team the Wildcats are. A 3-2 start likely means the Cats are destined to battle it out in the middle of the Pac-10 for one of the six bowl spots. A 4-1 record would mean that the Wildcats not only took care of business against teams that they should beat but it meant they upset either LSU or USC. A 4-1 record could signify that the Wildcats are good enough to challenge at the top of the Conference.

However, a 2-3 record (or worse) would mean that the Wildcats are not quite ready for primetime. It would mean that they could not beat a good, but not elite, Mountain West program or lost to a Washington team that many have pegged for the bottom of the Pac-10.

It all starts with BYU. BYU is a good, solid program coming off a bowl season. If most preseason polls are correct, then BYU is considered one of the better teams in the MWC, but they are not seen as a great team like Utah was in 2004. Last year the Cougars lost all three games they played against BCS conference teams, and if Arizona is a bowl team like they think they are, they should be able to find a way to win a home game against BYU.

LSU is another story. Not only are the Tigers seen as a top-10 (or better) team, but the Cats have to travel to Baton Rouge. LSU has a very intimidating home field and winning there is never easy. A win would catapult the program to the next level, but realistically, if the Cats can make it a tight game and escape injury free, then they would have to feel pretty good. The last time the Cats and Bayou Bengals matched up was in 2003 when LSU humiliated Arizona 59-13.

There are no moral victories against Stephen F. Austin. The Cats must win and win impressively. The Cats faced D-IAA Northern Arizona the past two seasons, but did not exactly blow out the Lumberjacks. The Cats would like nothing more to blow out SFA and get some young guys some work.

USC is another game where the Cats won't be expected to win, although there are some in the media who are picking an upset. While an upset would serve notice to the entire country that the Wildcats are for real, a close loss would still be a moral victory. The Wildcats are probably a year away from no longer needing ‘moral victories' but hanging around within two touchdowns of the Trojans is probably still a step in the right direction.

Washington appears to be a must win. Most pick the Huskies to be in the bottom half of the Pac-10 and that is the type of team the Wildcats need to beat if they are going to go bowling. Of course UW is saying the same thing about needing to upend the Cats for the second straight season.


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