The Arizona Wildcats, a season removed from painful 4-8 campaign, is headed to the New Mexico bowl. This will be Arizona's fourth bowl game in five seasons.
But back to that painful season, a topic I don't want to dwell on but it affords us perspective.
Last year, the Wildcats were reeling through a seemingly imminent firing and miserable streak of consecutive losses to FCS schools. Things were bad. And then we learned that Greg Byrne can handle a coaching hunt and landed Rich Rodriguez to be Arizona Football's next leader. What a difference a year makes.
This weekend we witnessed some fan upset surrounding Arizona's bowl selection. Parts of the fan base were unhappy with their New Mexico Bowl invite. That's how quickly Rodriguez has turned things around in Tucson. And it's quicker than the surface might display. These Wildcats were arguably three timely plays away from a ten-win season; a feat accomplished just twice by Wildcat Football.
Alas, they did not make those three timely plays but my mentioning of them twice now further serves as an example of Rodriguez's rapid re-facing of this program. He started the season by asking "Why not Arizona?" And why not? The conference had a solid year but the South Division appears to be annually wide open as an NFC East title chase. It can be argued whether or not there was parity or mediocrity throughout the conference and bowl season will go a long way in defining that, but the Pac seems to be perennially ripe for the picking. Particularly considering the unbalanced scheduling. Arizona skipped games against Washington State (3-9) and Cal (3-9). In their stead, one of the tougher schedules in the country was played.
Probably my favorite takeaway from the season was Rodriguez's feeling, whether he meant humbly or strategically, that this group had won more games than even he'd expected. Here was a roster with a brand new quarterback, a depleted defense, and a whole new everything to learn that managed to hover around the top-25 all season. The exact place Rodriguez wanted his team to be, relevant and on that ESPN ticker. They got there and stuck around and the future looks to be a relevant one.
And now they're bowling again. Headed to the New Mexico to play Nevada in what should be a heavily rushed game. Ka'Deem Carey and Stefphon Jefferson rank second and fourth, respectively, in total rushing yards in the nation. As teams, Arizona and Nevada rank 17th and 10th. And the Wildcats should win. Yes, the team that just twelve months ago was 4-8 should win their bowl game and finish 8-5, the school's best record since 2009.
A season that may have greedily been a touch better with a bounce here, a tackle there, a favorable schedule. Cause hey, Why Not Arizona?