Arizona Football

Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of USC Trojans vs. Arizona Wildcats

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1. How does an unheralded team handle success?

Rich Rodriguez's duty this week in practice was to keep Arizona hungry

Rich Rodriguez’s duty this week in practice was to keep Arizona hungry

Nobody, not even Dr. Phil, knows for sure how a team will mentally adjust after going unranked and unmentioned among college football’s elite to being ranked No. 10. Fat and happy? Lean and mean with a continued purpose? Players can talk about staying focused but what really happens to the psyche?

Arizona’s program is only three spots below that of Nick Saban’s at Alabama, which is No. 7? Oklahoma’s Bob and Mike Stoops are looking up at the Wildcats at No. 11?

Judging from Arizona’s past performances after its biggest leap in the AP poll, the Wildcats will be honed in on USC tomorrow night at Arizona Stadium.

The Wildcats are 7-3 in such circumstances. They are 2-1 when one of their biggest leaps landed them in the Top 10. The loss came in Arizona’s last foray into the Top 10 in 2010 when Oregon State outlasted Arizona 27-25 at Arizona Stadium.

On the flipside, in games in which Arizona was ranked No. 10 or higher for the first time in a season, the Wildcats are only 4-5. They have lost three consecutive hard-to-forget, program-altering games in such cases:

— 1998 as No. 10 to UCLA, preventing them from the Rose Bowl, their only loss of the season.

— 1999 as No. 4, walloped at Penn State 41-7 in the opener in a game that was the beginning of the end of the Dick Tomey era.

— The 2010 loss to Oregon State when Arizona went from being unranked to No. 9 in a 5-week span at the start of the season, the same amount of time it has taken to be No. 10 this season. That was also the beginning of the end of Mike Stoops, whose team went 3-5 the rest of that season and 1-5 to start the 2011 season, leading to his dismissal.

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HOW ARIZONA WILDCATS FARED AFTER
HIGHEST JUMP IN AP RANKINGS

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2. What happens when traditional power USC is ranked lower than Arizona?

Arizona fans may want to skip this segment.

One of the snapshots in 1978 when Arizona went from the WAC to the Pac-10 — a slogan was “Back the Cats, WAC to Pac” — was a drawing of surfers wearing USC and UCLA tank tops on the beach asking something smugly to the effect, “What do we have to be worried about?” A Wildcat in the background was about to pounce on them.

Arizona is 8-22 against USC since joining the conference in 1978. The Wildcats are better against UCLA at 14-18-1. Overall, they are 22-40-1 against the Los Angeles glamour schools.

When Arizona progresses further than USC it generally suffers a setback. The Wildcats are 1-4 in games in which they are ranked ahead of USC. The only time the Wildcats won in 1993 was when they were No. 12, USC came to town with a 2-2 record. John Robinson’s team was crushed by the Desert Swarm 38-7 in Tucson.

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Only four years ago, No. 18 Arizona lost to an unranked USC team 24-21 at Arizona Stadium. It was the sixth straight time the Trojans won in Tucson. That streak was stopped two years ago when an unranked Arizona team rallied from a 15-point second-half deficit to beat No. 10 USC 39-36.

3. Sarkisian and Arizona do not mix.

In two trips to Tucson as Washington’s coach in 2010 and 2012, USC coach Steve Sarkisian lost by scores of 44-14 and 52-17, respectively.

He is also 0-2 in Tempe, including a 53-14 shellacking last year at Sun Devil Stadium.

Sarkisian’s teams at Washington and USC on the road have struggled in general with a 9-20 record.

4. Another Scottsdale Chaparral product.

USC has only one player on its roster from Arizona — long snapper Peter McBride of Scottsdale Chaparral — while the Wildcats feature 35 Californians.

McBride graduated from Chaparral in 2011, when Arizona special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Charlie Ragle won his third and last state title as head coach of the successful program.

“Peter went out to (USC’s) camp and killed it,” Ragle told Scout.com in a 2010 article about McBride, who also played on the defensive line at Chaparral. “After the camp they said they would offer him but it was contingent on being able to enroll at midyear. Peter came back and met with our counselors and he found out that he could graduate early.

“He is a sharp kid, has a 3.8 GPA. He met with his family and decided it was what he wanted to do so he committed.”

Seven of McBride’s former Chaparral teammates followed Ragle to Tucson after he joined Rich Rodriguez’s staff in 2012.

5. What it means if Jesse Scroggins plays Saturday.

If Scroggins, a senior, is allowed to play against his former school — he was on USC’s roster in 2010 and 2011 — Arizona followers hope it’s because the Wildcats are well ahead in the fourth quarter. That’s their best-case scenario for Scroggins to go against the Trojans.

The only other way Rodriguez would play Scroggins is if Anu Solomon gets injured or USC is routing Arizona in the fourth quarter.

Other Arizona-USC ties:

–Arizona cornerback Jonathan McKnight is the brother of former USC tailback Joe McKnight (2007-09)

–Arizona safety Yamen Sanders Jr. is the son of former USC men’s basketball player Yamen Sanders Sr. (1991-92). The elder Sanders, a burly Detroit product who was 6’9″ and 230 during his playing days with Harold Miner, is one of the best rebounders to play in the conference. After George Raveling managed to have the elder Sanders transfer to USC from Central Michigan, the center averaged 8.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game as a senior in 1991-92.

–Arizona receiver Austin Hill is the nephew of longtime Los Angeles sportscaster Jim Hill, who has covered USC’s program extensively.

–Arizona’s John Mosbach, who previously worked in USC’s Student-Athlete Academic Services, is director of the CATS Academic Service Center at Arizona.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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