TEMPE, AZ—Each Winter the President of the United States gives a “State of The Union Address” which is mandated by the Constitution and intended to give the American public a sense of the nations stability. I am under no such mandate, but have to marvel at the concept. Since Arizona’s historic season is coming to an end, let's take a look at the elements at play around this football team heading into their final regular season matchup.
Last Week: If you had sat down with each member of the Wildcats Friday night before their final home game against the Utah Utes, many would not have predicted such a positive outcome. The Utes, who were the victors of the PAC-12 just last season entered the matchup in Arizona Stadium with just two losses. Though they are not the same team as last season they still boasted impressive wins over USC, and UCLA, as well as a one score loss on the road against the number four ranked Huskies of Washington. Knowing this information and what Arizona Head Coach Jedd Fisch called a, “championship opponent” one would think the Wildcats were in for a daunting task. They proved everyone wrong. Following an opening drive score, capped by a trick play touchdown pass by star wideout Tetairoa McMillian, the home crowd was electrified. Their enthusiasm was not relinquished when the defense forced Utah to a three and out. However, what happened next was a the type of play that not only changes games, but changed the complexion of entire seasons and careers. The Wildcats defense got home for a blocked punt and Anthony Ward finished the job with a recovery and touchdown return. Just six minutes into the game Arizona led 14-0. They would not look back and went on to rout the defending conference champions 42-18.
This Week: With their fourth win against a ranked opponent Arizona is now the only team in the NCAA this season to have defeated four ranked teams and they find themselves 8-3 (6-2 in the PAC-12). The only obstacle left for Arizona is the territorial cup against their in-state foe Arizona State Sun-Devils. Arizona State has certainly had a disappointing season, but they have been competitive for the most part. The Sun Devils have two wins in the conference this season as well as multiple conference losses by one score, including a 15-7 road loss in Washington, a game where they covered the point spread by a clean twenty. In addition to Arizona State's Competitive nature this season, another factor that cannot be ignored is the rivalry factor that, no matter the talent disparity, often leads to well contested games. Look outside of Arizona vs ASU, similar matchups with a storied history often have a “throw out the record books” type demeanor about them and Arizona vs Arizona State is no exception. The Wildcats are in no position to be overlooking the Sun Devils this Saturday Afternoon in what will be a monumentally important game for Arizona.
Bowl Ramifications: Outside of the importance of defeating ASU, which matters to both members of the program and fans alike, is the impact this game will have on the quality of the bowl game Arizona plays in. There are reports that if Arizona and Oklahoma both win this week, it would lead to a clash between the two schools in the Alamo Bowl. The Alamo Bowl is one of the more respected Bowl games played in San Antonio on December 28th. If Arizona were to make an appearance, that alone would be a significant accomplishment for the program and Jedd Fisch.
Did someone say championship?: Exciting times certainly await the Wildcats, but a PAC-12 title game is not a part of that future. Washington punched their ticket last weekend with a win against Oregon State, and Oregon will be their opponent. Oregon also clinched after a win against Oregon State, Friday night. The Ducks are 7-1 in the PAC-12 this year with all seven wins coming by two scores or more, their only loss coming against the Washington Huskies, 36-33. They get their revenge game with the Huskies next Friday in Las Vegas for the final conference title game for these two programs. The victor will likely represent the PAC-12 in the CFP this winter.
Needless to say, the State of the Union for the Arizona Wildcats Football Team is strong and they have a lot to be optimistic about regarding the future of the program and their final games this season. On the horizon this offseason will be retaining Coach Fisch with a substantial raise considering the team's success and his potential options outside of Arizona which could be far more lucrative compared to his current contract. Assuming the Wildcats can retain Fisch which may prove to be a large assumption, their odds to succeed next season in the BIG 12 seem high. Of the 2024 members of the BIG 12, Arizona is currently the highest ranked team in the nation. Could they be the preseason favorite to win the conference? I would say there's a chance.
Territorial Cup Prediction: