An informal poll conducted on this site last week had more than 350 respondents (as of this morning) with most of them voting that Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez’s seat is “moderately hot”, with at least seven wins a must to keep them happy.
Arizona has been beset by injuries, inadequate defensive performances, inconsistent running production and a carousel of quarterbacks the last two seasons. The Wildcats won only four Pac-12 games in 2015 and 2016 after capturing the Southern Division title in 2014.
Out of 357 people who took part in the poll as of this morning, 35.29 percent voted that Rodriguez’s seat was moderately hot followed by 31.65 percent selecting the “warm” option that stated Arizona needs a better record than last year’s 3-9 mark.
Almost a quarter of the respondents — 23.25 percent — voted that Rodriguez’s seat is searing hot, meaning he is fighting for his job.
Only 9.8 percent selected that his seat is cool (he should not fear his job security).
The results of the poll reflect that most of the fans are expecting a marked improvement from Arizona this season for Rodriguez to bolster his job security.
Rodriguez was a guest of the AP Top 25 College Football Podcast recently and the topic came up about how crucial it is for him that the Wildcats succeed this season.
“There’s always pressure,” Rodriguez said. “If you have a bad year, there’s going to be more pressure the following year, without question.
“We need to prove ourselves all over again. … If there’s a person in our program that doesn’t have a chip on their shoulder and doesn’t feel the need to prove themselves, then they don’t belong in this program.”
Here’s a look at Arizona’s 2017 schedule and what will have to happen for the Wildcats to win at least seven games and appease most of the fans:
Sept. 2 — NAU at Arizona Stadium: The Wildcats should take care of their FBC rivals from Flagstaff.
Sept. 9 — Houston at Arizona Stadium: Tom Herman is gone to Texas and Major Applewhite will be in only his second game as a head coach. This is a must-win game for Rodriguez in that it will start to sway public opinion favorably if Arizona beats the Cougars, who went 9-4 last season after starting 5-0 with a No. 6 ranking. A loss would signal that Arizona is not ready to win a big game, even at home.
Sept. 15 — At UTEP: The Miners are coming off a 4-8 season in which they lost two non-conference home games against Army and Southern Miss by a combined score of 100-21. Rodriguez can not lose this one.
Arizona should be 3-0 after the non-conference schedule. That means the Wildcats must win at least three Pac-12 games (with a win in a bowl game) to reach the seven-win mark. They could also win four conference games and lose in a bowl to at least achieve seven wins.
Sept. 22 — Utah at Arizona Stadium: The Wildcats have defeated the Utes in the last two meetings in Tucson. It would not be a surprise if they win this one against Utah, especially in the conference opener. Rodriguez can’t start 0-1 in league play with a loss at home.
Oct. 7 — At Colorado. Where Arizona’s first loss should be expected to happen with the way Mike MacIntyre build that program back to respectability. Arizona should be 4-1 overall (exceeding last year’s win total) and 1-1 in the Pac-12 at this point.
Oct. 14 — UCLA at Arizona Stadium: Two coaches feeling the stress to succeed this season, but Jim Mora has to feel better about this game than Rodriguez. Mora is 5-0 against Rodriguez and Arizona. The Wildcats must win but a UCLA victory can be expected especially with NFL quarterback-in-waiting Josh Rosen leading the way. Arizona likely will be 4-2 and 1-2.
Oct. 21 — At California: The Golden Bears have a new coach in defensive-minded Justin Wilcox with Sonny Dykes and his highly potent offense gone. This is a game Arizona must steal on the road to keep it on target for improvement and keep the fan base happy. Arizona could be 5-2 and 2-2. Not bad.
Oct. 28 — Washington State at Arizona Stadium: Mike Leach has Rodriguez’s number the last couple of years, including a 69-7 thrashing in Pullman, Wash., in 2016. The Wildcats will likely have that score posted to their locker room wall all week. They can’t lose this one. Arizona should be 6-2 and 3-2 and one of the surprise teams of college football.
Nov. 4 — At USC: Let’s just say this one goes to the Trojans because it’s in L.A. and the Trojans have superior talent. Arizona should be 6-3 and 3-3.
Nov. 11 — Oregon State at Arizona Stadium: This one appears easier now than it will be then because Gary Andersen should continue on his upward slope from 2-10 in his first season of 2015 to 4-8 last season. The Beavers could come to Tucson with a winning record. But that won’t matter to Arizona fans. The Wildcats can’t lose at home to Oregon State. Arizona should be 7-3 and 4-3.
Nov. 18 — At Oregon: The Ducks had a down season last year but it is tough to win at Eugene. Arizona should be 7-4 and 4-4.
Nov. 25 — At ASU: Todd Graham is also under the microscope. Because this game is in Tempe, I’ll give it to the Sun Devils but the game is definitely winnable for Rodriguez and the Wildcats. Arizona finishes the regular season 7-5 overall and 4-5 in league play.
A potential loss to the Sun Devils would hurt but Arizona will still meet the needed seven-win plateau in this scenario with a bowl game still to be played. But consider: Arizona could very well lose its last three games (including the bowl). How would that sit with the Wildcats’ fans?
The bottom line is Arizona can certainly win at least seven games in 2017. Whether the Wildcats will do it — winning at home against Houston, Utah, Washington State and Oregon State is paramount — is the great question that could determine Rodriguez’s fate.
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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.