No doubting the importance of BYU

Arizona opens the 2007 season against BYU. For the thirds straight season the Cats open things up against a Mountain West team and for the third straight year the opening game of the season is huge.

The game against the Cougars is not a "must win" but it is close. So much can be accomplished with a win, and a loss could make things more difficult.

First and foremost the Cats need a win. Getting a win in the first game put the Wildcats one step closer to a bowl birth. Although six wins gets a team bowl eligible, Wildcat fans know from last year that there is a big difference between being bowl eligible and playing that extra game in December.

It is simple math. If you win the first game you are that much closer to the 7+ wins. A loss and you have far less margin for error.

There is also the momentum gained from the win. The Cats lost that last game against ASU and lost all the momentum they gained in the three-game win streak A loss at BYU might further hurt the confidence of a Wildcat team that has yet to "learn to win".

A win would give the team confidence. The Cougars appear to be the best of the three non-conference foes, as well as the lone road game of the bunch. At least in theory, this is the hardest game of the three and a win should mean the Cats could start the season 3-0, their best start in the Mike Stoops era and their best start since they went 3-0 in 2001.

The Cats have been a decent road club, beating Oregon State, Washington State and Oregon on the road the past two season. They need to keep that up. If they can't beat BYU on the road, how do they expect to win in place like Berkley, Tempe and Corvallis?

If the Cats do want to be a top-5 team in the Pac-10, they have to beat a team like BYU. While BYU is a very solid, if not very good team, they are in the end a Mountain West Team. A good Pac-10 team should always beat a good Mountain West team. Certainly there are exceptions, but in most cases a good Pac-10 team, even one that is closer to 5th place than 1st place, should beat even the best MWC teams.

Frankly, BYU is where Arizona wants to be. Since the hiring of Bronco Mendenhall, the Cougars have been a consistent bowl team. Although the Wildcats have aspirations of someday being a BCS team, first they have to get to bowl games. To be a Pac-10 team who consistently earns postseason bowl bids, you have to be better than BYU.

Last year's BYU team was a special team. They had a legitimate argument at being a BCS quality team by year's end. That team was no the norm. Most years the Cougars are a 7-9 win team that should contend for the MWC title. A very good, but not elite program. If the Cats hope to be in the upper division of the Pac-10 they have to beat the BYU's of the world.

Over the past five seasons, the Cougars are just 9-14 against non-conference opponents, but are just 4-11 against BCS conference opponents. Even worse they are 1-6 against the Pac-10. That just reinforces the thought that if Arizona is a good football team they should be able to beat BYU.

Saturday's game could be a big one. We may look back and said this was the win that propelled the Wildcats into the next phase of success or we could look back and say this was the loss that denied the Cats a bowl bid for the ninth straight year. This can be the win that makes the Mike Stoops era legit, or one that could cause the fans to lose confidence.

Either way it is a vital one.

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