Random thoughts while wondering if the Arizona Wildcats can avoid an ominous sign, failing to beat a ranked team in a season, when it hosts Colorado tonight. It would be the first time in the Rich Rodriguez era that would happen. Bad news has come when that has happened before in the program. …
First, Wilbur, a.k.a. Captain Arizona …
THE ONE-TIME GIANT KILLERS
That was the nickname of Arizona’s program under Larry Smith after the Wildcats toppled top 10 teams USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and ASU. By the time the late Smith left for USC in 1987, he had more wins against ranked teams at Arizona than his predecessors Darrell Mudra, Bob Weber, Jim Young and Tony Mason combined.
They were 2-22 against ranked teams from 1967 to 1979. Smith was 8-13-1. He coached the Wildcats to their first victory over a No. 1-ranked team, USC, in 1981 at the L.A. Coliseum.
Rodriguez was 7-12 against ranked teams entering this season, his fifth at Arizona. He is 0-3 with losses to No. 9 Washington, No. 24 Utah and No. 25 Washington State. Colorado plays the Wildcats tonight as the nation’s 16th-ranked team.
The previous two seasons in which Arizona went without a win against a ranked team? That happened in 2003 and 2011 — seasons in which John Mackovic and Mike Stoops did not survive.
Rodriguez is not in that same danger zone, not with a myriad of injuries and a new defensive coordinator. But a loss against the Buffaloes tonight would put Rodriguez at 1-8 against ranked teams since clinching the Pac-12 South title with a victory over No. 13 ASU on Nov. 28, 2014. That kind of stretch puts Rodriguez on the defensive with his critics.
Dick Tomey was a remarkable 8-5 in his first 13 games against ranked opponents from 1987 to midway through the 1990 season. He then lost six straight, culminating with the near-upset at No. 1 Miami in 1992. The Wildcats went on to win three straight games against ranked teams that season, capped by the victory over No. 1 Washington at Arizona Stadium.’
After beating No. 10 Miami 29-0 in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl, Tomey’s record against ranked teams until the end of his tenure in 2000 was 8-16. His victory total over that six-year stretch did not exceed the eight wins he earned against quality teams in his first four seasons. That decline signaled an end to that era.
Can Rodriguez turn this thing around? Beating ranked teams is an obvious signal of strength and Arizona is at its weakest right now. Rodriguez must beat quality teams and sustain those kind of victories to be on the offensive against those critics.
ARIZONA COACHES VS. RANKED TEAMS
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.