Before the season that wasn't the case. Before the season Wildcat fans pointed to this game. Before the season many Trojan fans wondered if this was a trip-up game. At least two national radio personalities picked the Wildcats to upset USC. One well respected preseason magazine also tabbed this game as a Trojan loss.
Then LSU happened. More specifically, the first eight minutes of the LSU game happened.
In 460 ticks of the clock the Wildcats went from a scrappy team who could hand with almost anyone, to a disaster. Forgotten were the close battles with Utah, Wisconsin, Purdue, Oregon and, yes, USC. Forgotten was the depths of despair the program was in under John Mackovic. All the fan base wanted to dwell on was how far the program had fallen since 1998.
Fans did not necessarily expect a win against LSU, but they expected a fight. They got a fight alright, a fight on par with Ali/Liston II. LSU came out swinging and Arizona took one on the chin. 17 quick points and an injured quarterback and that was all she wrote.
In fact, many have written Arizona off. A once trendy pick is now a footnote.
That could all change. Arizona could become the ‘hot' team. An upset over USC would do that, so would playing them tough.
Coaches don't coach for ‘moral victories', but that does not mean they don't happen. They don't game plan for close, but sometimes that is good enough.
In year three of the Mike Stoops rebuilding job the team is not good enough to forgo moral victories. They don't have enough wins or enough prominence to ignore what a good performance can do for them.
Truth be told, if Arizona can hang with USC, people will take notice. If the Cats can give USC all they can handle, the players may be upset at losing, but will have a lot more confidence against Washington the next week than they would with another LSU-type performance.
Arizona is a three-touchdown underdog and frankly, if they could cover that it would be a ‘moral victory'. Nebraska is a legit top-25 team and they lost by 18. If the Cats could be close to that number, it could bode well for the squad.
Arizona Stadium will be packed on Saturday. If the Wildcats look good, win or lose, they can regain a lot of the momentum they had before the BYU game. After up and down wins against the Cougars and Stephen F. Austin, combined with the hideous loss in Baton Rouge, many of the fringe fans jumped off the Wildcat bandwagon. After Arizona failed to throttle D-IAA SFA, many fans settled into the "here we go again" mode. The diehards still believe in the program, sometimes to a fault, but the entire community, including bandwagon fans, are needed to support a football program.
Someday the Wildcats will be good enough to not settle for "close". Now is not that day. Arizona is not a top-10 program. Sure they beat UCLA a year ago, but that isn't a regularity yet. Right now a strong performance could go a long way into helping the Cats turn the corner. Sure, a win would make that corner very maneuverable, but an impressive performance will help as well.
Arizona is not so good that they can't benefit from a "moral victory". However, if they get a few more of them, the days of the "moral victory" will soon be a thing of the past.