Following an excruciating and "embarrassing" defeat at the hands of the UCLA Bruins, the Arizona Wildcats are left to address a host of issues.
Namely, the 'Cats must figure out how to cover, tackle, and maybe even how to win without quarterback Matt Scott.
Scott left the Wildcats' 56-point defeat in the third quarter after suffering an apparent head injury, leaving the already paper-thin 'Cats without their most indispensable player.
Meanwhile, battered and bruised, Wildcats fans must combat the urge to succumb to the all-too-familiar feeling of defeat.
Arizona football fans live a notoriously tortured existence, but that existence can't overshadow the fact the 'Cats are in year one of a multi-year rebuilding process.
Of course, this conflicts with natural fan behavior. As a fan you are allowed—even encouraged—to become carried away with each win. Conversely, losing can send any die-hard into a hopeless depression and no other fan will question you for it. They just get it.
That's exactly why, following an upset of then-No. 9 USC at Arizona Stadium, Wildcats fans started thinking big.
It's also why, following a thunderous thud at the Rose Bowl, a routinely snake-bitten fan base was again forced to abandon its recklessly optimistic thoughts and replace them instead with questions of whether things will ever truly change.
Now rewind back to Pac-12 media day in late July.
The Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South, one of two teams in the division without a single first-place vote.
Even fourth place seemed generous for a team not only losing its most potent offensive weapons in quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner, but also for a team faced with adapting to drastically different schemes on both sides of the ball.
Sure, the 'Cats were bound to benefit to some degree with quarterback Matt Scott having redshirted the year before. But even Scott, despite his status as a fifth-year senior, had only started five games in his career. Thus, his experience was greatly exaggerated.
Nonetheless, Scott and Rodriguez would prove to be the perfect quarterback and coach marriage. So perfect, in fact, that Arizona blew away its preseason expectations by ascending to No. 22 in last week's BCS standings.
A 66-10 debacle later and RichRod's team had gone from Pac-12 South contenders and national darlings to utterly shell-shocked.
An indefensible shellacking notwithstanding, it's critical to understand that Arizona has overachieved.
Arizona (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) sits one game shy of bowl eligibility with three games left to play. With miserable Colorado heading to Tucson Saturday, Arizona figures to end the day bowl-eligible, with or without their starting quarterback.
For my money, Rodriguez has done a masterful job. And judging by how he has fared in his first year at previous stops—2-8 at Salem in 1988, 1-7-1 at Glenville State in 1990, 3-8 at West Virginia in 2001, and 3-9 at Michigan in 2008—no one should have expected this much success this early.
It was just a year ago that the 'Cats started 1-5 before AD Greg Byrne canned the much-maligned Mike Stoops. The Wildcats would finish the year with four wins.
Two thirds of the way through the 2012 campaign, Arizona eclipsed last year's win total.
Not only that, its done it against one of the toughest schedules in college football. Consider that all but one of Arizona's nine opponents to date has spent time ranked in any or all of the AP, USA Today/Coaches or BCS Top 25, the exception being FCS opponent South Carolina State.
Despite running the gauntlet, all the while working to perfect Rodriguez's up-tempo offense and Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense, Arizona sits one win shy of bowl eligibility with three games to play.
Should RichRod's team reach its sixth, seventh or even eighth win, he should receive ample credit for a job well done.
The truth of the matter is, while no fan likes the term or the idea of it, Arizona is in the early phases of a long rebuilding process.
I'll go so far as to save you the suspense for next year's team. The 'Cats, without Matt Scott behind center, will more than likely take a big step back before moving forward again.
But one embarrassing defeat shouldn't overshadow the overall body of work Arizona has put together. Not by a long shot.
Fans in Tucson must keep perspective on where their team was expected to be and where they actually are. That alone should inject hope into a fan base accustomed to crushing disappointment.
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