Odds-defying Wildcats have legit Playoff shot

Odds-defying Wildcats have legit Playoff shot
Anthony Gimino
Anthony Gimino

By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Bear with me here because I'm going to attempt some math.

Let's go back to the afternoon of Nov. 15, Washington at Arizona, the Huskies with a first down and a two-point lead with about 1:30 left in the game. What were the Wildcats' chances of winning at that point? One in a hundred? More? Less? Let's be generous. Let's say Arizona had a 2 percent chance of winning.

Of course, the Cats did win. Tra'Mayne Bondurant stripped the ball from running back Deontae Cooper, Derrick Turituri recovered, and Casey Skowron kicked a 47-yard field goal. Amen.

OK. From there, Arizona had to win at Utah. The Utes were slightly favored, but let's call it a toss-up and say the Wildcats had a 50 percent chance of winning.

Still with me?

Then, in order for Arizona to still have a shot at the Pac-12 South title, UCLA needed to beat USC. Remember, we're estimating here. I'd say the Bruins would win two of three meetings, so we'll say UCLA had a 67 percent chance to beat its rival. It did.

So far, so good. Arizona, two steps away, still had to beat ASU. Another virtual toss-up; 50 percent chance of winning. And, now, the thing out of UA's control last Friday: Stanford needed to upset UCLA in Pasadena. The Cardinal was a seven-point underdog, which roughly translates into a 30 percent chance of winning. Stanford ran away with it, 31-10.

To recap:

On late afternoon on Nov. 15, the Wildcats were staring at their third league loss. Instead, they pulled out a miracle victory and did what they had to do in the next two weeks while the pieces gloriously fell into place around them, settling into a throne on which Arizona sat at 7-2 in the league.

So, let's do the math: 2 percent multiplied by 50 percent by 67 percent by 50 percent by 30 percent. That works out to Arizona having a 0.1 percent chance of sitting where they are today - Pac-12 South champs, ready to play Oregon in the conference title game in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, on Friday night.

In other words, 1 in 1,000.

Not a bad two-week stretch to go from 0.1 percent to 100 percent.

It's OK to say it: Arizona has been lucky. The Hill Mary. Washington's monumental blunder. Various late-game defensive stops that hinged on a single play.

The thing about it is that the Wildcats have been good enough, played hard enough and never gave up enough to be in position to accept any and all gifts from the football gods.

"A little bit of it is luck - you have to have things go your way - but a lot of it is belief," said Arizona senior safety Jared Tevis. "Belief and hope, man. That's big. You can't win if you don't believe."

At this point, how can you not believe?

Actually, I can't believe I'm about to type these words: Arizona should be in the four-team College Football Playoff if it beats the Ducks for a third consecutive time on Friday.

Arizona. Playoff. Now that combination would have been unthinkable a few months ago, but I've stopped being surprised by anything the Wildcats do this season. After beating 1-in-1,000 odds, what's another long-shot victory?

The College Football Playoff selection committee hasn't asked for my advice (yet ... OK, never), but here's how I see it: An 11-2 Arizona team that wins the Pac-12, beats Oregon twice and has other late-season victories over Washington, Utah and Arizona State while having no "bad" loss ... that's the resume of a playoff-caliber team, no matter what happens elsewhere in the country this week.

The Wildcats are seventh in the CFB rankings this week, and would jump the second-ranked Ducks with a win Friday night. Would it help if Georgia Tech upset No. 4 Florida State in the ACC title game? Or if Wisconsin knocked off No. 5 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game? Or if No. 6 Baylor lost to Kansas State?

Of course. But I still have to think the champ of the Pac-12 - inarguably no worse than the second-best league in the country - has to be a part of the inaugural playoff. The Cats' overall body of work would be better than that of one-loss Ohio State, and I can't see the committee feeling the need to take two teams (TCU, Baylor) from the Big 12, especially when neither had to risk everything in a league championship game, as do teams from the other four major conferences.

Of course, for this debate to continue past Friday night, the Wildcats, as two-touchdown underdogs, have to beat Oregon. Arizona won 31-24 in Eugene earlier this season when it was more than a three-touchdown 'dog. Not that the Cats are caught up in any of this talk about probability.

"We talk about keeping the main thing the main thing, which is just getting ready to work every day, practice the way we practice, focus on your opponent and don't worry about things you can't control," UA coach Rich Rodriguez said.

Having defied the odds to get here, the Wildcats have to do it again. Face it: The chances of the magic continuing - Arizona winning the Pac-12 championship game and then getting a spot in the College Football Playoff - are not in Arizona's favor.

But they're not 1 in 1,000 either.

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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