Arizona Wildcats’ non-conference schedule nation’s softest



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The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 71 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.

Will Arizona ever play on the road again against a program like Notre Dame? The Wildcats upset the Fighting Irish in  1982, prompting coach Larry Smith to be carried off on their shoulders (YouTube)

Will Arizona ever play on the road again against a program like Notre Dame? The Wildcats upset the Fighting Irish in 1982, prompting coach Larry Smith to be carried off on their shoulders (YouTube)

Arizona’s 2013 non-conference schedule was already deemed weak, but CBSSports.com senior college football columnist Bruce Feldman takes it one step further. Or is it one step backward?

Through a points system, Feldman ranks Arizona’s non-conference slate against NAU, Texas-San Antonio and UNLV as the weakest in the country.

Feldman factors each opponent’s projected worth (on a scale of 1-5) with each team getting an additional half-point it plays on the road and .25 more if the game is a neutral site. His five easiest non-conference schedules: Arizona (1.33 index), West Virginia (1.42) and Auburn, Baylor and Kansas State are tied with 1.50 points.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and his former school West Virginia have one thing in common, other than their spread offenses.

“Year Two of the Rich Rod Era sees the Wildcats face two of their three non-conference opponents coming off eight-win seasons, but it’s FCS Northern Arizona and Texas-San Antonio, which lost its other four games by at least 20,” Feldman writes. “Arizona’s other non-con game is on the road but it’s at UNLV, which was 2-11 last season.”

Schedules are done years in advance, so the 2013 slate was completed under the Mike Stoops’ regime. Stoops’ reasoning for scheduling such opponents is a result of three factors: NAU rotates games with ASU and Arizona yearly, the Wildcats have nine tough Pac-12 games already scheduled and Stoops subscribed to the Bill Snyder theory of scheduling.

(FBSchedules.com graphic)

(FBSchedules.com graphic)

One other element to consider: Perhaps Stoops was trying to save his job after the Wildcats failed to build upon their 2008 Las Vegas Bowl victory over BYU.

Kansas State and Snyder did not become a college football success because they beat top-notch non-conference competition over the years.

Stoops, a former Snyder assistant at Kansas State, knew the formula of his former boss well: Try to take care of business in the conference and allow the non-conference games serve as preparation for that task. People will forget the non-conference games if you succeed in the conference.

To Snyder’s credit, he has used this formula well to prepare K-State for successful runs in the Big 12. Instead of, say, a demoralizing loss to Oregon in the non-conference schedule — Snyder canceled a home-and-home with the Ducks in 2011 and 2012 — the Wildcats handled the likes of Missouri State and North Texas to gain momentum.

Miami, not nearly the program it used to be, was already scheduled for a home-and-home in 2011 and 2012. Snyder thought it was too much with Miami and Oregon on the schedule after returning to coach the program in 2009 following a three-year hiatus in which he planned to retire. Snyder is a smart man. He canceled the series with national powerhouse Oregon instead of the once-proud Hurricanes.

K-State’s first three games in 2013 — all at home — are against North Dakota State, Louisiana-Lafayette and UMass. Hope the tailgate parties are at least fun those weekends in Manhattan, Kansas.

As weak as Arizona’s non-conference schedule seems to be, it is an ideal situation for Rodriguez as he tries to resurrect the program in his second year. The reasons:

— The first three games against NAU, UNLV and Texas-San Antonio allows Rodriguez to break in a new starting quarterback with Matt Scott exhausting his eligibility.

— Chance for less injury to starters heading into Pac-12 play if the Wildcats are able to build healthy leads in each game, thereby resting the first-stringers.

— With victories comes rankings, which leads to national exposure, which leads to enhanced recruiting.

— Arizona All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey can burst on to the season with significant rushing yardage totals and make people forget about his off-season problems and concentrate instead on another year of accolades.

No question about it, this is an ideal season for the Wildcats to have a weak non-conference schedule. A non-conference schedule like this would create negative publicity in Tucson if the Wildcats were already established under Rodriguez.

UA fans are accustomed to scheduling difficult non-conference opponents because of the bravery of Larry Smith and Dick Tomey. They coached against the likes of Notre Dame, LSU, SMU (when it was a powerhouse), Oklahoma, Miami (during its national title days under Dennis Erickson), Ohio State and Penn State.

Some of Arizona’s most memorable moments occurred in victories over Notre Dame, SMU and Oklahoma. The Wildcats’ 8-7 loss at No. 1 Miami in 1992 was also historic.

Being a native Tucsonan and someone who has followed the UA program since the early 1970s, I do not believe a majority of Arizona fans will accept the Bill Snyder non-conference scheduling philosophy.

That might be a detriment. Arizona has not advanced to the Rose Bowl, which can be a result of not having enough in the tank. The Wildcats, who historically do not recruit the talent of USC, UCLA and now Oregon, may need to beat up on the have-nots to have it all.

Chuck Osborne had 18 sacks in a two-year span with Arizona

Chuck Osborne had 18 sacks in a two-year span with Arizona

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The best No. 71 to play for Arizona: The late Chuck Osborne, a defensive tackle from 1992-95. He had 18 sacks in his final two seasons, a significant number for an interior lineman. Osborne, 38, passed away inside his La Jolla condo last October. In 1996, he was a seventh-round pick of the St. Louis Rams. He played three NFL seasons with the Rams (1996) and Oakland Raiders (1998 and 1999), then retired after two injury-plagued attempts with the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots in 2000.

WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.


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