No. 18 Arizona gearing up for big stretch run
In reality, it could turn out to be a virtual bye week for the 18th-ranked Wildcats.
Oregon's loss at Stanford last weekend gave the Wildcats some wiggle room as they head into a brutal stretch run. Arizona can lose to Cal - or Arizona State - and still earn its first Rose Bowl berth.
Just don't tell the Wildcats (6-2, 4-1 Pac-10). They're operating under the assumption that every game matters.
"It doesn't change what we have to do to win a championship or play in the Rose Bowl - we have to win out," coach Mike Stoops said at his weekly campus news conference on Monday. "Our mission really hasn't changed a whole lot."
After Cal, the Wildcats play host to No. 14 Oregon. The Wildcats close with two tough road games - at rival Arizona State on Nov. 28 and at No. 11 USC on Dec. 5.
A sweep would give Arizona, which joined the league in 1978, its first outright Pac-10 title.
But Arizona can afford a loss to Cal or ASU and still make it to Pasadena.
Here's how: if the Wildcats beat the Ducks and Trojans, they could finish with two league losses and still own the tiebreaker against every other team.
Stoops said he hasn't outlined the various scenarios with his players.
"All's they know is we're in a good position," he said. "That would be childish to explain that to them. They understand exactly what's at stake. They can count very well, and they understand what wins and losses do for you."
But some losses can be more costly than others.
A loss to Oregon or USC would likely consign the Wildcats to a minor bowl.
A loss at Berkeley - where Arizona has been outscored by 115-41 on its last three visits - would force the Wildcats to win their final three games to claim the conference title.
Nose tackle Donald Horton said he hasn't broken down all the scenarios involving his team. "That's too confusing right now," he said.
But Horton said it's "kind of natural" for players to look down the road, even as they're listening to their coach's one-game-at-a-time mantra.
"If you're honest with yourself, we're on this little winning streak now, you kind of feel like, man, if we can just knock off Oregon and SC, we can really be in a good spot," Horton said.
This is uncharted territory for the Wildcats. A year ago, they were thrilled to draw a bowl invitation for the first time since 1998.
Having achieved bowl eligibility with a month to go, the Wildcats have far grander goals.
"This will define our season, these four games," quarterback Nick Foles said. "Every game is going to be really tough. This will show what kind of team we really are."
Stoops said his team won't be daunted by the stretch run.
"Everybody thinks about, well, you've got to play this schedule," Stoops said. "They've got to play us too."
Against Cal, the Wildcats may once again be without starting tailback Nic Grigsby, who missed last weekend's 48-7 victory over Washington State with a sprained right shoulder.
Backup tailback Greg Nwoko, who also has a shoulder sprain, will practice this week and might play against the Golden Bears, Stoops said.
Meanwhile, Stoops said defensive end Brooks Reed, who missed three games with a high ankle sprain, will likely start at Cal. Reed had a sack in Arizona's 48-7 victory over Washington State last weekend.