Arizona climbs rankings, but USC preparation takes priority

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is well aware his team will be congratulated plenty this week for knocking off No. 2 Oregon last week. It started Friday and will probably last until Saturday when USC visits Arizona Stadium.

"It’s probably from the same people who didn’t mention anything to them a week or so ago," Rodriguez said Monday.

Winning does that. Believing all the talk is the problem. Having a chip on your shoulder isn’t.

"It’s like poison, " Rodriguez said. "It’s OK unless you swallow it."

Case in point: Thursday night’s gave vs. Oregon. The words: bigger, stronger, faster were used to describe the Ducks.

It meant nothing. Arizona countered with grit and determination. Now, UA has been rewarded — sort, of — with a No. 10 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll.

"I don’t mind, because it don’t matter," Rodriguez said. "It don’t matter. I told the team, it don’t matter right now. It matters at the end but not right now. But if it helps us get a little bounce in our guy’s steps and the fans will be happy and be in the stands Saturday night, then it will be (good)."

Later Monday afternoon the game had been declared a sellout.

As for the rankings, 10 is but a number. A good number, but …

"Making the big leap is pretty good, but our mindsets are pretty good," said defensive back Will Parks. "Our mindsets won’t change. It’s stay humble, stay ready and stay focused for whatever challenge comes our way."

The No. 10 ranking is Arizona’s highest since 1999. But even so, odds makers have USC as a 2-point favorite on Saturday night (down from an opening line of three).

"I’m glad we are the underdog," said Parks. "That keeps the guys focused for the task at hand. USC is a pretty good team. But we will prepare just like every other team that comes into our house."

Arizona hasn’t started a season with six wins since going 7-0 to start the season in 1993, eventually finishing 10-2 and beating Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. In 1999, the Wildcats started 5-0 and then lost to UCLA at home. They regrouped from there and eventually defeated Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl to finish No. 4 in the polls.

When it mattered. 

Follow Steve Rivera on Twitter