All in all, it's certainly been an eventful season for UofA football with the numerous highs and lows that alternately had me toasting to the team's success and then crying in my beer at the team's heartbreakers. There's been no lack of drama that's for sure. Following that demoralizing double overtime loss to the Oregon Ducks (which decisively knocked the 'Cats out of Rose Bowl contention) came that weird and ugly win last weekend over the ASU Sparkies for ownership of the Territorial Cup.
On the positive side this will be back-to-back winning seasons for the football team with back-to-back bowl appearances as well as back-to-back wins over rival ASU, and that at least demonstrates the program is moving in a good direction under Coach Mike Stoops and his staff.
Factor in the reality that the team's best player (TE Rob Gronkowski) went down with a back injury and was lost for the season before the season even really began and the chronic injury troubles at the RB position and it's easy to see that the overall team depth and athleticism is much better than in seasons past. But probably the most notable development during this roller coaster 2009 season has been the emergence of sophomore QB Nick Foles as an efficient and accurate passer. The UA offense has consistently put points on the board and looked very good doing it, even with all the nagging injuries that have hit key players throughout the year.
Of course there are still some glaring failings to be addressed for this program to continue to improve and be considered among the elite in the Pac-10. First, why can't this team finish a game? The 'Cats continually get outscored and outplayed in the fourth quarter ... hell, even that pathetic ASU offense was moving the ball against Arizona to make that game much closer than it ever should've been. To really look at the big picture, if the Wildcats had learned how to put teams away then the Washington game in Seattle, the Cal game in Berkeley, and the Oregon game in Tucson could've very easily been victories and I'd be all giggly and happily writing about an impressive 10-1 UofA team instead of confused and critically writing about a schizophrenic 7-4 UofA team.
I don't like to be critical of the team, but when they show signs of what great plays they're capable of making and then continually fail to meet their full potential it naturally leaves everyone (including the team) a bit on edge. The Wildcat defense falls squarely in this category. The talent is there, the coaching is there, the defensive schemes have been proven and yet for whatever reasons there are critical times during games (uhm yeah like the fourth quarter!) when the UofA defense simply can't stop anyone. Now in their defense (ha, strange play on words there) the teams throughout the Pac-10 have some of the best offenses in college football, so to be fair it's understandable that the opposing teams will make some big plays every now and then. But overall, if the 'Cats want to challenge for the Pac-10 title then the defense has got to be more consistent.
Okay, having written all of that gibberish, there's plenty to get excited about for the future of Arizona football. In the season finale the 'Cats travel to the LA Coliseum to face the equally inconsistent USC Trojans. Don't let the so-called experts fool you, even though USC is the overwhelming favorite no one really has a clue how either team will play in this game. I guess the best the Wildcats can do would be a win over USC and a trip to either the Holiday Bowl in San Diego or the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Opponents for those games will come from the Big XII conference, probably either Nebraska or Oklahoma. Lose to USC and it's certainly the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego to face the Utah Utes. To look on the bright side, it's not the Rose Bowl but it's still some sort of flower bowl. Just poinsettias, not roses.
It's all good though. Kind of like winning a date with actress Natalie Portman instead of winning a date with supermodel Marisa Miller. Still very exciting but you just can't help wondering what might've been.
Honestly I think the players have the talent to get Arizona to the top of the Pac-10, and I really believe in what the coaches are doing with them. That's what makes this so disappointing. Everything is in place for Arizona football to finally break through, but it just seems like something goes wrong at just the absolute worst possible time. Hopefully Gronk decides that the NFL can wait another year and Foles continues to develop at QB and the UA defense finds that elusive consistency in 2010 that it lacked in 2009.
As a true Cubs fan I'm accustomed to saying "Wait til next year!" but deep down I know "next year" really should've been this year for Arizona football.