Arizona recuperates, waits for postseason fate

TUCSON, Ariz. — As one of nine bowl-eligible Pac-12 football programs, there’s no clear picture of where or when the Arizona Wildcats will play next.

“There’s no way of knowing right now, but we will be working on it this week to see if we can speed up the process,” Arizona athletics director Greg Byrne said.  “As of right now there are too many uncertainties.”

The Pac-12 champion (ASU or Stanford) will head to the Rose Bowl, and five other Pac-12 teams would be higher on the priority list due to better records than the Wildcats’ 7-5.

The Pac-12 has affiliations with the Alamo, Holiday, Sun, Las Vegas, Fight Hunger and New Mexico bowls, but there could be spots available in other bowls such as the Heart of Dallas Bowl and the Advocare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La.

Official announcements will be made Dec. 8.

Arizona defeated Nevada with a dramatic comeback victory in last season’s New Mexico Bowl.

“At the beginning of the season if you would have said we’d be in postseason play again and we would beat the No. 5 team in the country (Oregon) … that would be (considered) good progress,” Byrne said. “Sure we are licking our wounds from the game on Saturday night, but that will pass in time. Obviously we need to look at the big picture … we’ve made good progress once again with what Coach (Rich) Rodriguez is doing.”

The big picture is all Arizona has right now after finishing 7-5 overall and 4-5 in the Pac-12 following Saturday night’s 58-21 drubbing at the hands of Arizona State.

Arizona started the season off with three wins against teams it should have beaten, lost on the road to Washington and USC, then beat Utah, Colorado and California (teams that finished a combined 3-24 in conference). The Wildcats stumbled down the stretch with three losses in their last four games, but the lone win was Oregon — which falsely fired up the hopes of the fan base for the season-ending Territorial Cup game.

Arizona turned out to be the team that most thought it would be: talented in few spots (Ka’Deem Carey was its only All-Pac-12 performer), OK in others and inconsistent in most, including quarterback and wide receiver.

The seven wins pretty much matched the preseason projections, but the manner they occurred did not, inasmuch as the Wildcats lost to Washington State then beat Oregon in consecutive weeks in November. And then, they came up way short of Arizona State. Talk about glorious high to horrible low.

“One of the things I have to do is take a step back and look at the big picture,” Byrne said. “And, I really like where we are for the long haul.”

The Wildcats started four seniors on offense and five on defense, although it’s unknown whether Carey will return for his senior season or declare for the NFL Draft.

It was expected that rebuilding would be a long-haul type of project when Rodriguez was hired, and he has made notable progress. He’s bringing in better, faster, more athletic players for his system and style. He’ll be back in on the recruiting trail this week and next and get back to practice in some form once it is announced where the Wildcats will be going in the postseason.

Last season, Arizona took a few days off, then got back at it in preparation for the New Mexico Bowl. Attendance was listed at 24,610 on a cold but eventually glorious day as UA won 49-48 in come-from-behind, last-second fashion.
Byrne said a return to New Mexico isn’t out of the question.

“We’d have no problem going back,” Byrne said. “If we are fortunate to have that happen, we’d be happy to be back.”

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