Aside from a rare three bye weeks, schedule makers handed Arizona few favors as the Wildcats are set to begin a 12-game slate this weekend at Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors are good. Not great, but certainly good. Like Arizona, success is more likely to come on the offensive side, with plenty of questions remaining to be answered defensively.
The Wildcats could play well and easily blow out Hawaii. They could turn in a solid performance and win with a final score that has bettors on both sides of the line sweating. They could stumble, somewhat, and lose a heartbreaker. They could come out flat and get routed.
Honestly, none of these outcomes would surprise me.
The conference schedule has Arizona on the wrong side of the 9-game format, with five tilts on the road. Outside of the October 5 matchup against Colorado in Boulder, the remaining four league road games come against foes picked to finish higher than Arizona in the 2019 Pac-12 Media Day Poll.
2019 Arizona Wildcats Schedule
Washington (Family Weekend)
Oregon State (Homecoming Weekend)
at Arizona State
Arizona will play at USC, at Stanford, at Oregon, and at rival Arizona State.
Home games will be equally challenging.
Arizona is set to host Texas Tech in a non-conference matchup on September 14. The Red Raiders were picked seventh in the Big 12’s Media Day Poll. Although they were just 5-7 a year ago, Texas Tech did beat the same Houston team that crushed Arizona and, like the Wildcats against several Pac-12 clubs, were competitive in single-digit losses to the likes of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Texas.
In conference, Arizona will host UCLA, Washington, Oregon State, and Utah.
The Bruins and Beavers are still in rebuilding mode, yet each has a history of stalling any momentum Arizona seems to build this decade. As for Washington and Utah, those two schools are expected to contend for division titles.
Add it all up and even though expectations are higher for Arizona in Kevin Sumlin’s second year, optimism should be tempered, even if just a little.
In terms of making a bowl appearance, the Wildcats likely cannot afford a hiccup in non-conference play. They also need to secure home wins against UCLA and Oregon State, as well as a road victory against the Buffaloes. The difficulty here is this level of success would require a 5-0 start to the season.
Even with improvements in a variety of areas, including overall team health, anticipating a perfect start to the season feels like a leap than a step in the right direction.
The cool thing is if it does happen, it is the type of momentum that a team can ride, the type of momentum that results in upset wins over nationally-ranked teams like Washington, or Oregon, or Utah. However, if a season-opening loss to Hawaii occurs, or early home losses to Texas Tech or UCLA or both happen, suddenly, the Wildcats are looking up at a daunting conference schedule against teams not only predicted to contend for a Pac-12 title, but several already among the Top 25 in the country.
Naturally, schedule talk is simply that.
Games must be played. Even better, games are played one at a time. A lot will happen between now and November 30 and the predictability of what will happen in the coming months is, in a word, unpredictable.
Arizona does return the Pac-12’s top total offense (457.7 ypg) and rushing offense (202.4 ypg). The offensive line is more experienced, the receiving corps is going to feature some surprises that make fans smile, the backfield looks potent, the defensive line appears promising, the linebackers are skilled, the secondary has some potential game changers, overall depth is better, there is a nice combination of young talent and veteran players, and improvement is expected across all special teams units.
There is reason for hope (and wins). However, the schedule is not going to be easy. In the natural order of life where optimism is a driving force, let us not overlook the fact that Arizona does have a challenging road ahead filled with enough potholes to slow momentum.