Importance of WSU game cannot be denied

I try to not be one for hyperbole, but I truly feel we are looking at the most important game of the Mike Stoops era. Washington State comes to town and a number of things will be answered when the final gun goes off. Either players, fans, coaches and administrators will feel better about where things are going, or the realization that this could be a long season will finally set in.

The Cats are 1-3. At worst, most expected them to be 2-2, and most felt they would be 3-1. The schedule was designed for the team to be 3-0 heading into the game against Cal. Honestly, the Wildcats were looking at playing a top-10 team, on the road, with revenge on their minds. Few really believed the Cats could win that game.

If you take away the first quarter, the team actually fared very well. They traded punches and actually put a slight scare into Cal when they trimmed the lead to 11.

However, Cal proved that they are the superior team and in year four there is no room left for moral victories. The Cats need more than hope, they need wins.

In comes Washington State. A team that has yet to prove they are good. They hung with Wisconsin for a half, but the Badgers have not proven to be an elite team. They blew out two bad Mountain West teams and traded touchdowns with USC before being throttled by USC.

If Arizona is going to turn around the season, and possibly turn around the program, it begins Saturday night. If you can't beat Washington State, even the slim bowl possibilities all but dry up. For the season to turn around they likely have to beat both WSU and Oregon State and try to head into the Stanford game at 3-4 and healthy after the USC game.

A win would give the Wildcats some much needed momentum. It would give the fans some hope. It would give the players some confidence. It would give the administration some belief.

A loss would really hurt the program. Lose to WSU and any chance of packing the stadium later in the season for games against the likes UCLA and Oregon. Fans are already jumping off the bandwagon in droves, a fourth loss before the end of September would really send them packing.

The players need a win. This team has been fragile since the Mackovic days, and word is things have not been great since the New Mexico loss. It almost seems like they expect bad things to happen to them. They need a win to gain some confidence. In my opinion teams like Stanford, Oregon State, Washington and UCLA have not proven themselves. While all have done some good things, it is not like they are complete teams. Even ASU and Oregon have been known for playing better in September than they do in November. The Cats finish off the year with those two squads.

They say success breeds success and that could be true. A win over WSU could jumpstart this team.

I think the coaches really need a win. They have to be second guessing themselves. They all expected to be a lot further along than they are. They had confidence in their players and their ability to mold them. You can suffer surprising losses and not wonder if you could have done more.

You know recruits have their eyes on the game. While very few of the team's targets have dropped them or de-committed, a number have stated their displeasure with how the season has gone so far. The staff has been selling that the future is bright, but taking a step back this season makes that a tougher sell, especially when ASU and Washington look to be getting better.

This game could shape the next few years of the program. Get a win, string some more wins together and the program is back on track. They may fail to get to that much needed bowl game, but there would still be momentum heading into the off-season. If the Cats can challenge for .500, still disappointing to many, they can restore some faith.

Lose and you wonder what happens. Can the players stay happy or does the dissension start? After seeing a huge turnover in the offensive staff, do other coaches worry about their jobs? Jim Livengood and Mike Stoops both said publicly last season that an improved offense would lead to wins. The offense is better, but the team is not.

The season can be salvaged. Good things can still happen, but I fear things need to improve this week. I am not sure the psyche of this team can handle another loss to a team they feel they are better than. With another loss I am not sure the program can get back on track without some more major changes.

The future is murky, and the future is this Saturday.


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