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Wednesday, December 17, 2014 | Last updated: 4:06pm

For UA football, the mask comes off



On paper, the 2011 Wildcats are easy to read.

They’re a 2-5 football team that’s two losses from bowl elimination. For the better part of seven games, the Wildcats have been inconsistent defensively and on the ground, while Nick Foles’ right arm and Juron Criner’s hands remain their biggest strengths.

Perfect scouting report, right? Wrong.

To the untrained eye, this Arizona football team is tough to evaluate. There’s so much more to the Wildcats’ season than statistics and game film will convey.

One thing is certain: When Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian steps to the podium for his post-game press conference this Saturday, he won’t quote former Arizona Cardinals coach Denny Green in saying “They are who we thought they were.”

Not even UA head coach Tim Kish knows Arizona’s identity.

Consider the stipulations. Arizona opened the season against three top-10 teams and four storied programs, endured a mid-season coaching change and eventually won an emotionally-charged contest against a mediocre UCLA team.

It’s been a two-month roller coaster ride to put it lightly, and UA’s opponents, injuries and coaching change has blurred Arizona’s expectations moving forward.

Were the Wildcats realistically expected to beat Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma State and USC? No.

They were expected to compete much more than they did, but they can’t be judged on those games.

Then there was Oregon State. In Mike Stoops’ last game at Arizona, the Wildcats looked awful for 30 minutes, yet made things interesting late in the game.

That’s the game that got away, and one that the Wildcats will look at when they miss out on their first bowl game since 2007. But even that game can be viewed as a product of Stoops coaching in his last game as his team fell apart at the seams.

Then Arizona bounced back against UCLA in about as complete of a game the Wildcats have played in the last year. But even in an impressive win, it’s hard to put a finger on this team. Arizona played with nothing to lose.

They got back to the fun of football and played as loose as ever. That combined with UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince and the Bruins’ predictable rushing attack resulted in the perfect storm for Arizona.

Saturday’s game against the Huskies is the first feeling of normalcy Arizona has had all season.

Unlike its first four FBS opponents, Arizona isn’t dating out of its league with Washington. Yes, the Huskies are 5-2 but they aren’t among the Pac-12 elite.

Keith Price is good, but he’s not Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley or Brandon Weeden. Husky receiver Jermaine Kearse is dangerous, but he’s no Justin Blackmon.

The mystique behind this Arizona team will fade after this weekend’s game. The Wildcats have finally gained some stability with Kish at the helm. They’ve inched farther away from the Stoops era and have had a full week of practices without questions about their former coach.

Are they as bad as their record suggests? Are they a product of a rough schedule and inexperience in key areas? This Halloween weekend, the costumes come off and we find out who the Wildcats really are.

_— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu. _


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