Arizona Football

Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of Arizona Wildcats in Pac-12 title game




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Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of Arizona vs. Oregon for all of the Pac-12 and College Football Playoff marbles while wondering how a team such as No. 2 Oregon can have two revenge games against one opponent in one season …

1. We’ll REALLY get you this time

When asked by Pac-12 Networks host Michael Yam this week if playing in the Pac-12 title game was extra special because it’s Arizona, which beat Oregon earlier this season at Autzen Stadium after pummeling the Ducks in Tucson last season, quarterback Marcus Mariota answered subdued: “We don’t focus on the opponent.”

Yam is great at what he does, but what did he expect Mariota to say: “Heck yeah. We intend to release some pent up frustration, fo sho!”

Heisman front-runner Mariota, who has lost only four games as a collegiate starter, two of them against Arizona, is even-keel to begin with, unlike some of his Oregon teammates.

“I think we played two terrible games against Arizona,” Oregon running back Byron Marshall said. “We haven’t given them a good game in I don’t know how long. That kind of eats at us knowing that they beat us, but we weren’t at our best.”

If the game is won or lost on psyche, Arizona wants Oregon to have revenge on its mind. That means the Ducks are regressing in thought to the previous losses to Arizona. It’s like a jump shooter who can’t get the last brick out of the mind instead of moving on and being unconscious to such failure.

Since Arizona joined the Pac-10 in 1978, the Wildcats have played Oregon 13 times coming off a win over the Ducks in the previous matchup. The Wildcats are 8-5 in those games against one of the conference’s most credible programs in the last 20 years.

It calls to mind the famous quote by the late American clergyman Douglas Horton: “While seeking revenge, dig two graves – one for yourself.”

2. Rich Rodriguez familiar with playing a team twice in a season

He knows where Oregon stands right now with its rematch with Arizona, except in reverse.

When asked after the win over ASU last week if he’s ever played a team twice in one season, Rodriguez remarked, “No, never have”, and he likened the experience to coaching in the NFL in which division rivals face each other twice a year.

Rodriguez actually has, in 2003 while at West Virginia against Maryland. The Mountaineers were routed twice by the Terps, 34-7 at Maryland early in the season and 41-7 in the Gator Bowl to conclude the season. West Virginia won seven consecutive games leading into the Gator Bowl, including victories over No. 3 Virginia Tech and No. 16 Pittsburgh.


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That game was part of a Maryland dominance over West Virginia in a three-year span in which the Terps beat the Mountaineers four times by an average score of 35-13.

Arizona has outscored mighty Oregon 73-40 in the last two years with the Ducks ranked in the Top 5 in each game.

The last time Arizona has played a team twice in one season? In 1911, when Arizona played Tucson High School, which was coached by 25-year-old J.F. “Pop McKale. The Badgers and “Varsity”, as Arizona was called then, played the last two games of that season. McKale, who became head coach of the Wildcats three years later, vowed to improve Arizona’s scheduling upon his hire.

That meant no more games against Tucson High and multiple games against Tucson or Phoenix club teams in one season, which was the norm when Arizona football started.


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Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly had his first NFL experience of facing a team twice in one season last year when Philadelphia played the New York Giants three weeks after routing them at home 36-21. New York turned the tables and won 15-7 (a game in which former Arizona quarterback Nick Foles did not play for the Eagles because he was injured).

“I think can you stay up late at night going ‘they did this last game and we did this, and they know that we did this, so we need to change because we think they’re going to do that.’,” Kelly said in a press conference before the rematch with New York. “But they’re in the same room saying the same exact thing. So we know they’re going to change, so we’re going to change, and you end up not sleeping the second time you play somebody.”

3. What is Arizona’s history of winner-take-all games?

Never in their Pac-10/12 existence have the Wildcats been in this position.

The last time Arizona played in a game to win a conference championship and participate in a big-time bowl was 39 years ago, when the 12th-ranked Wildcats (9-2) played No. 8 Arizona State (10-0) in Tempe. The WAC title and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl to play powerhouse Nebraska was on the line.

The Wildcats lost 24-21 in the game in which ASU’s John Jefferson made “The Catch”.

In the days leading up to that game in 1975, one hot topic was a potential matchup with Tom Osborne’s Cornhuskers in the Fiesta Bowl.

“Yes, I think either Arizona or Arizona State can move the ball against Nebraska,” former Arizona coach Jim Young was quoted as saying by the Tucson Daily Citizen.

That is the equivalent of Rodriguez lobbying this week that Arizona should be in the College Football Playoff if the Wildcats beat Oregon. Fortunately for Arizona’s focus, he’s left that up to us in the media to make such a claim.

Arizona and ASU also played for the WAC title in 1973 with the Sun Devils winning 55-19 in Tempe as both teams finished 6-1 in the conference. The Sun Devils advanced to the Fiesta Bowl by virtue of their tie-breaker with the head-to-head win over Arizone.

The Wildcats finished tied for first in the WAC in 1964 and either tied for the Border Conference title or won outright in 1935, 1936 and 1941 but never played for all the marbles against another contender in the last game of the season.

4. Arizona gets in the College Football Playoff with a win … right?

It should not matter what happens to Florida State against Georgia Tech or Ohio State against Wisconsin because Arizona should replace Oregon as one of the top four teams in the nation with a victory.

Winning two games against a Top 5 opponent in one season is so uncommon and difficult the Wildcats have never accomplished the feat in their history.

Arizona has played multiple games against Top 5 teams in four different seasons — 1980, 1988, 1991 and 1992. The closest the Wildcats came to winning twice was in 1992, when they almost upset No. 1 Miami on the road (losing 8-7 as Steve McLaughlin’s last-second field goal went wide right) before beating No. 1 Washington 16-3 at Arizona Stadium.

If the Wildcats pull another upset over Oregon, that would give them a 2-0 record against one of the college football’s elite programs over the last decade. Arizona would be the champion of the second-most powerful conference in the nation behind the SEC. The Wildcats have already emerged as champions of the Pac-12 South, college football’s toughest division other than the SEC West.

The argument against Arizona will be the Wildcats’ two losses. That argument is not significant for a couple of reasons.

First, winning the Pac-12 title trumps those two defeats because the Wildcats will emerge as the top team from one of the best conferences. It’s not like winning the ACC. Second, the two losses came against UCLA and USC, two bowl-eligible teams that are ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25. UCLA is No. 15 and USC is No. 25.

Arizona also defeated a No. 17-ranked ASU team that has nine victories and won big at No. 23 Utah (8-4). Furthermore, the Wildcats have wins over bowl-eligible teams Nevada (7-5) and Washington (8-5).

If Arizona wins, the Wildcats are in. … Or should be.

5. Is Anu Solomon the second coming of Mariota?

Both are so calm and cool, an extension of their laid-back Hawaii background. They are tactical warriors as quarterbacks, another characteristic of their Polynesian roots.

Mariota has a little more size than Solomon. Mariota is 6’4″ and 219 pounds whereas Solomon is 6’2″ and 198.

Solomon has quarterbacked Arizona (10-2) to the Pac-12 title game as a redshirt freshman whereas Mariota fell just short.

When Mariota was a redshirt freshman in 2012, the Ducks suffered a loss to eventual Pac-12 North champ Stanford in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Oregon still finished 12-1 and ranked No. 2 nationally in Kelly’s last season.

Mariota is more of a mobile quarterback than Solomon, although both have the ability to created opportunities out of the pocket.

When Mariota was a redshirt freshman, he rushed for 752 yards on 106 carries in addition to his 2,677 passing yards. Mariota completed 230 of 336 pass attempts (68.5 percent) with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Solomon, hobbled in recent weeks with an ankle injury, has rushed for 282 yards on 108 carries. He has passed for more yards than Mariota (3,424) as as a redshirt freshman but is not as efficient of a passer as Mariota at the same stage. Solomon has completed 58.2 percent of his passes (279 of 497) with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Their intangibles as winners who strongly impact their teammates make them similar.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen, other than Marcus, a guy, as a freshman do the things that he’s done,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said this week.

“He is just another polished guy, great competitor, really smart, especially for a guy of his experience level at the collegiate level.”

It’s refreshing to read comments about fierce competitors, such as Mariota and Solomon, and sense a genuine respect for each other. It’s not just canned comments or player-speak. That all comes from their Polynesian heritage.

“This Polynesian culture takes a lot of pride in any Polynesian athlete,” Mariota told “To see him do well especially as a redshirt freshman, we’re pretty proud of that.” publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also has written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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