Arizona Encouraging Darkhorse Talk



by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

On some Fridays this year in the NOTEBOOK, we'll preview a huge early TV game on Saturday. Many Friday night games are kind of ho-hum. We're not going to waste space on a yawner when something like Texas-Oklahoma is set for a morning kickoff. We'll go in depth in our FRIDAY report so you have plenty of time to make a decision.

This week, the early Saturday slate isn't exactly a blockbuster...but a very interesting team is on the field Friday Night. We're going to devote today's efforts to all the talk around the Arizona Wildcats.

If you scan the internet, you'll find more than a few 'darkhorse' themed stories about Arizona 'finally' making it to the Rose Bowl. Everyone else in the league has made it at least once. Next year, Utah and Colorado are scheduled to join the conference...which will at least give the loneliness some company to love for awhile. Maybe Arizona will make that point moot. Could THIS be the year Arizona wins the Pac 10 and plays in Pasadena?


*Nic Foles is a solid quarterback, and this is a season where 'solid' puts you ahead of the game in the Pac 10. There are new starters in a few spots. Game 'managers' are holding fort in others. Nobody's going to dominate Arizona at the position this year...and it's the most important position on the field.

*The Pac 10 is a surprisingly condensed league this year. Southern Cal has fallen back from national superpower status to be just another team. You wouldn't pick a 'middle of the pack' team to rise up in the SEC, or the Big 12. It can happen this year in the Pac 10 because nobody's obviously going to be dominant. Oregon is getting the early nod...but they're far from a sure thing given their tendency for drama.

*Oh, Southern Cal is ineligible to win the title anyway! That means this thing is really up for grabs. There aren't many years you can stumble to 'second place' in a down year in the conference and still qualify for the Rose Bowl. In that sense, this is one of Arizona's best shots ever.

*The first half schedule is structured as best as possible in terms of providing confidence. Arizona will be favored over Toledo and Washington State in the only two road games. Big home crowds could see victories over California, Iowa, and Washington within the first seven games. Something like 6-1 (or, perish the thought...7-0) is at least possible with the schedule structure.


*The team lost both coordinators in the offseason, with OC Sonny Dykes becoming the head coach at Louisiana Tech...and DC Mark Stoops is now running the defense at Florida State. It's very difficult to make a splash in a season where you have TWO new leaders on the coaching staff. And, this isn't a case where a team fired two guys who were in over their heads. Arizona lost two guys who were moving up the ladder. The NEW guys may be the ones who are in over their heads.

*The defense was the strength of the team last year, ranking 25th in the nation in yards allowed per game. Only four starters return on that side of the ball. It's far from a sure thing that the defense can maintain it's stellar level of performance.

*The team just wasn't all that great last year, even if they were better than expected. They're good enough to play a lot of nailbiters. Champions don't play a lot of nailbiters. They crush most opponents and play occasional nailbiters. Maybe three fourths of the Pac 10 this year will amount to B-minus kind of teams. Somebody will win a lot of coin flips and make some headlines. Hoping you win coin flips isn't the same thing as being a darkhorse.

*The three toughest games in Pac 10 play come in succession at the end of the year:

November 6: at Stanford
November 13: versus USC
November 26: at Oregon

The bye week helps. But, it's much easier to have success when you're big games are spaced out through the schedule. Can Arizona win THREE IN A ROW? Particularly with two games coming on the road?

Let's not forget the rivalry game with Arizona State that follows on December 2nd. Should Arizona managed a triple crown...a hated rival will be in the perfect spot to mess up their Rose Bowl plans anyway.

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For now, we're skeptical. We're skeptical about the Pac 10 as a whole because of the lethargic bowl efforts last year from teams like Oregon, Oregon State, California, and yes...even Arizona. The Wildcats were utterly crushed by Nebraska. This year's eventual Pac 10 champion will probably not be a national power, regardless of what the late season polls might suggest. That being said...Arizona has just a good a chance of creating illusions as anyone else outside of Washington State.

Another reason we wanted to put Arizona on your radar is to set the stage for monitoring the Pac 10 as a whole this opening week. As we've seen with other leagues in other seasons, overrated conferences get SPANKED in September against decent non-conference opposition. If you see an edge in Week One, you can exploit it over the next month.

Here are the Pac 10 teams playing high profile games this week:

*Arizona at Toledo tonight
*UCLA at Kansas State Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on ABC
*Washington at BYU Saturday at 7 p.m. on CBSC
*Washington State at Oklahoma State Saturday at 7 p.m.
*Oregon State at TCU Saturday at 7:45 p.m. ET on ESPN

In Week Two on September 11th:

*Oregon at Tennessee in prime time on ESPN2
*Washington vs. Syracuse
*Stanford at UCLA in the first Pac 10 game of the season
*USC vs. Virginia

In Week Three on September 17-18th:

*California at Nevada in a Friday Night game
*USC at Minnesota
*Washington State at SMU
*Arizona State at Wisconsin
*Washington vs. Nebraska
*Oregon State vs. Louisville
*Arizona vs. Iowa
*UCLA vs. Houston
*Stanford vs. Wake Forest

If the Pac 10 is going to struggle out of the gate, then Week Three could be a DEBACLE! On the other hand...if the depth is a sign of competitiveness across the board, you could see value taking some of the Pac 10 sides above.

Again, we're skeptical about the league overall. We're EXTREMELY optimistic about finding a huge play in Week Three involving a Pac 10 team based on what we learn this weekend.

And, we may actually have a big play or two tonight and Saturday involving the conference. The only way to find out for sure is to sign up for service. You can pay for seasonal packages in the BLUE RIBBON and CLOSED CIRCUIT clubs online with your credit card. Game day releases are always available a few hours before kickoff.

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It's great to have so much football to talk about after a pleasant and profitable summer. We're back in the morning to preview the North Carolina/LSU game set for prime time Saturday night on ABC. Sunday we'll take a look at the start of the Tommy Tuberville era at Texas Tech. Monday, it's the long awaited Boise State/Virginia Tech game that could play a huge role in determining the entrants in the BCS championship game.

Take care of business NOW so it's easy to get what you need, when you need it. LET'S GO MAKE SOME MONEY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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