25 thoughts on Arizona-Oregon, plus a prediction

25 thoughts on Arizona-Oregon, plus a prediction
Anthony Gimino

By Anthony Gimino / Special for Tucson News Now

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It's still a blur. The Arizona Wildcats are playing for the Pac-12 championship against Oregon tonight. Already? It would be nice to have a two-week Super Bowl break to breathe it all in, to appreciate the moment.

But it's a rapid-fire week befitting both teams' rapid-fire offenses, so we have 25 rapid-fire thoughts ... and a prediction:

1. Still blown away by the maturity and calmness of redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon. Asked this week about going up against Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the Heisman front-runner, Solomon thought quickly on his feet and responded, "This game is about more than just two Polynesian men."

2. Speaking of Solomon, I think a quarterback's win-loss record is often a useless statistic, having much to do with what's around him rather than his ability to single-handedly lead a team to victory. But you can't ignore Solomon's 67-5 record since his freshman year at high school. Yeah, 67-5. The kid's a winner.

3. Hard to think there wasn't room for Tra'Mayne Bondurant as even an honorable mention All-Pac-12. He was involved in seven turnovers in nine conference games, and his strip of Washington running back Deonte Cooper on Nov. 15 saved UA's run to the South title. What more could he have done?

4. Arizona went overboard after it beat Oregon in October. The Wildcats blasted social media with pictures of the old "Duck Hunt" game, mocked the Ducks' slogan "Win the Day" by reworking it to say "Won the Day" and declared that the "Ducks' dynasty was over." What's the old saying? Act like you've been there? Coach Rich Rodriguez told ESPN radio this week that those responsible for the messages apologized to him. Lesson learned. Note that Arizona's official responses after beating ASU last week were appropriately classy.

5. The Pac-12 championship game will be only the second of the season for Arizona on natural grass. The Cats flopped the first time, losing 17-7 to UCLA on Nov. 1.

6. Casey Skowron's kickoffs have been under appreciated. He has booted 61 percent of his kicks for touchbacks, key to keeping the ball away from Pac-12 speedsters. The national average for touchbacks is only 37 percent. If Skowron can reach the end zone Friday in likely rainy conditions, that's one less chance for Oregon to break a long play.

7. Speaking of long plays, Arizona has stuffed the Ducks while winning the past two games. The Wildcats have sat back in a prevent-style defense, making Oregon inch its way down field rather than throw thunderbolts for touchdowns. Oregon has had only seven scoring drives against the Wildcats in the two games - and that right there is pretty remarkable. Arizona has forced the Ducks to earn them all with drives of 11, 12, 11, 8, 10, 8 and 9 plays.

8. Have to think the College Football Playoff selection committee will do the right thing. Let's play this out and assume Arizona beats Oregon. Would the two-loss Wildcats jump ahead of one-loss teams and into the four-team playoff? "They would have a very strong case," said Stewart Mandel of FOX Sports. "The committee has already proven, with Florida State, that they're willing to break the order of the loss column and put a one-loss team above an undefeated team. Theoretically, they could put a two-loss team over a one-loss team."

9. Could not agree more with FOX Sports' Joel Klatt, who will be the analyst for Friday's game. He said Wednesday about the UA-Oregon game: "The personnel matchup that has led to Arizona's success is Scooby Wright. He is the best defensive player in America."

10. Scooby Wright could do what Ka'Deem Carey didn't. By that we mean get to New York City as a Heisman finalist. Wright is already up for several major national awards, including the Walter Camp Foundation's Player of the Year Award. The consensus top three players are Mariota, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper. On Friday night, if Scooby does what Scooby do, and Arizona beats Oregon, he will have an almost unassailable case to be part of the Heisman proceedings, which usually, but not always, includes five players.

11. More Scooby: Cal infamously told him that he'd be better off attending Sacramento State than its school. Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group caught up with Kenwick Thompson, who was the Bears' linebacker coach and recruiting coordinator at the time. "No staff is not going to take a player they think can help them win. But it's not an exact science. It's not perfect. Even in the NFL. Who knew about Tom Brady? You just hope a guy ends up at the right place that fits him. And evidently he did."

12. Still more Scooby: His signature play - the "Scooby strip" against Mariota this season - was technically perfect. He rushed off the edge but did not get upfield past the level of the quarterback. When Mariota took off, thinking he had a running lane underneath the block, Wright disengaged with the lineman and was in position to track Mariota from behind and rip the ball from his hands. All that is key again - the Arizona pass rushers can't get so far upfield that Mariota has room to run. Contain. Contain. Contain.

13. Final thought on Scooby: He's so grounded that none of this awards attention will faze him. I asked Rich Rodriguez about this Monday: "One of Scooby's greatest strengths is the chip on his shoulder to prove himself. I'm in the weight room at 6:30 (this morning), and there is two-star Scooby working out. The way he was raised, the way he's wired, I think he'll always find something to motivate him. If not, I'll find something."

14. Wait. One more Scooby thing: Almost forgot about an interview I did with Aaron Taylor of CBS Sports after Arizona had played only one game last season. I asked what impressed him. He answered, "That Scooby kid."

15. I understand the Pac-12 wants to go big time and hold its conference title game on a neutral field in a shiny new NFL stadium, but it won't look good when Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, CA, is perhaps half full Friday night.

16. It's time to drop the emphasis on going to the Rose Bowl. If Arizona wins Friday, it's almost certainly NOT going to the Rose Bowl, which is a host of a semifinal playoff game this season. College football has changed in the past 15 years. "Going to the Rose Bowl" should just be code for winning the Pac-12, even if the Rose Bowl is the actual reward. I mean, will any be disappointed if the Cats have to go play in a semifinal game in the Sugar Bowl?

17. Mariota has an Arizona problem. He has committed two turnovers in each of three previous games against the Wildcats. He has only three multi-turnover outings in all his other Pac-12 games combined.

18. The revenge angle is overused. Oregon tried to play it up earlier this season against Arizona. How did that work out? Still, revenge might be on the minds of Oregon players. Said the Ducks' receiver/running back Byron Marshall last weekend of the Cats: "I don't know about everyone else, but I wanted to play them."

19. Arizona's injury report this week was as clean as it has been all season. Oregon, on the other hand, is crossing its fingers about center Hroniss Grasu, running back Thomas Tyner and wide receiver Keanon Lowe. None played last week. The injury to Grasu, a first-team all-conference player, is the one to really pay attention to Friday.

20. Five Oregon players to watch other than Mariota: RB Royce Freeman (1,185 rushing yards); LT Jake Fisher (did not play in first game vs. UA); CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (All-American talent); DT Arik Armstead (the defense's most freakiest athlete); S Erick Dargan (team-high 81 tackles, five interceptions).

21. Arizona freshman running back Nick Wilson is only 2,976 yards behind Ka'Deem Carey's career rushing record at Arizona. If he gets about 175 yards closer on Friday, the Cats' chances of winning are pretty good. He has four consecutive 100-yard games.

22. Kudos to Austin Hill. Arizona's fifth-year senior receiver hasn't had the production he enjoyed two years ago, pre-ACL injury, but he's been all-in on a move to a tight end/H-back role that requires a lot of unheralded blocking. "It's forced him to really understand football," said receivers coach Tony Dews. Hill's unselfishness is duly noted.

23. If Arizona loses, what is the team's most likely bowl destination? The College Football Playoff selection committee picks the matchups for the top four bowls after the semifinal games. This year, those would be the Fiesta, Cotton, Orange and Peach. The Wildcats could very well stay among the group, slotted into the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale or the Cotton Bowl.

24. Arizona had just one first-team All-Pac-12 player (Scooby Wright) and two on the second team (center Steven Gurrola and punter Drew Riggleman). That's it. I guess it's clear why Rich Rodriguez was Coach of the Year.

25. Biggest Cats game in history? So asked a headline on another media site. Really? Who has to even ask that question?

PREDICTION

Can Arizona win? Of course. The Wildcats have pulled the upsets this year and last, winning as about three-touchdown underdogs both times. This time around, they're only two-touchdown underdogs.

If they don't give the Ducks anything easy - big plays, turnovers, stupid penalties - it will be no worse than another close game, like the one in Eugene this season. The hunch this time is that Oregon does a slightly better job of stopping UA's running game.

Oregon 31, Arizona 27.

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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