Arizona Wildcats football: Enjoy the moment - Tucson News Now

Arizona Wildcats football: Enjoy the moment

(Source: Arizona Athletics) (Source: Arizona Athletics)
Anthony Gimino Anthony Gimino
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By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Arizona Wildcats Coach Rich Rodriguez was spot-on when he said of his team's No. 10 ranking: "I don't mind because it don't matter."

Favoring a folksy phrase over not upsetting the grammar police, Rodriguez struck the right tone in the right message.

In other words ...

Enjoy this while you can.

Might I add: And hang on tight.

There is a lot of football left to be played.

Arizona's past two games have been as mind-blowing and spirit-elevating as just about any combination in school history. But, uh, have you seen the Pac-12? With the deepest collection of teams ever in the conference, you can't even count on a home game against Colorado as a sure thing. You can't. You just can't.

And there are seven more of these conference games left, starting Saturday night against USC.

Enjoy it while you can.

I don't mean that in a snarky "Enjoy it while you can, because it's all going to end soon kind of way; just know that these things - a 5-0 record and a Top 10 ranking - don't come along all that often. This is Arizona's best start in 16 seasons, and it's only the 23rd week the Wildcats have ever spent in the Top 10 of the AP poll, which has been around for 78 years.

Rankings mean next to nothing right now, but the celebration is still fun.

At one point on Wednesday, all at the same time, the Arizona football team was the lead story on ESPN.com, was the feature article on CBSSports.com's college football page and was splashed on the landing page of FOXSports.com. Sophomore wide receiver Cayleb Jones was on Jim Rome's syndicated sports talk radio show this week. Rodriguez was on Rome's cable television show.

Darlings this week. The national media all retreats if the Cats lose Saturday night.

So far, we know Arizona has been a great story - the 36-point fourth quarter and winning Hail Mary against Cal, followed by a 31-24 victory at then-No. 2 Oregon. The defeat of the Ducks, coupled by the biggest shake-up the AP poll has ever seen, made the Wildcats the only team to ever go from unranked one week to as high as No. 10 the next week.

But are the Wildcats a great team?

Would you settle for an answer of ... could be?

I've been of the opinion that the potential big payoff for Arizona would come in 2015, RichRod's fourth season. But greatness doesn't always happen on schedule. In the Wildcats' case, at least in the past 20-plus years, they often happen ahead of schedule.

The 1992 team was picked eighth in the preseason Pac-10 poll, and all that team did was give rise to the Desert Swarm defense, beat No. 1 Washington and lay the foundation for more success.

The 1998 team, tabbed for fifth in the preseason conference poll, went 12-1 and finished fourth in the national rankings.

Even Mike Stoops' 2009 team - the tantalizing squad that went into a Nov. 21 home game against Oregon controlling its destiny in the league race - came out of nowhere after being picked eighth in the preseason poll.

This Arizona team, you might recall, was predicted to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South. The season could still go any which way. It's not unreasonable to doubt UA. USC, 3-2 and coming off a gut-punch of a home loss to Arizona State when the Trojans handled a last-play Hail Mary pass as if they were fielding a lazy fly ball, is actually about a 3-point favorite Saturday night.

Isn't that perfect?

It's a win-win. Arizona gets all the attention this week and still gets to play the underdog card.

"I'm glad we're the underdogs," junior safety Will Parks said. "That just keeps the guys focused for the task at hand."

Arizona doesn't usually stay in the rare air when reaching these heights. The Wildcats are 13-8-1 when playing as a team ranked in the Top 10. Teams with that kind of rating should be winning more than 59 percent of their games.

So, yes, Arizona fans might be conditioned for an eventual disappointment, but don't worry about that now. Save the hand-wringing about losing Rodriguez to another school - cough, cough ... Florida ... cough, cough - for another time.

On this day, Arizona's coaches, facilities, athletic director, conference, momentum and young talent combine to form a program that is in its best and most sustainable shape ... ever. That's not going to change, no matter what happens Saturday night.

Enjoy.

Anthony Gimino has covered University of Arizona athletics for more than two decades, including as the football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star and the columnist for the Tucson Citizen.

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