Arizona plays Northern Arizona on Saturday. It will be the programs’ 10 meeting since 2002. The game is mandated by the Arizona Board of Regents and has typically been a win for the Wildcats and a paycheck for the Lumberjacks. The question I had was whether the margin of victory could tell us anything about how the rest of the season would go?
In the nine previous meetings, the Wildcats have won every game by double digits. Of those four were by 21 or less, and five were by 30 points or more. These margins of victory are actually significant.
In the four games decided by less than 21 points, the Wildcats only had a winning season in one of them. The 2009 squad struggled to beat NAU 34-17 and went on to finish 8-5.
It should be noted that Arizona started Matt Scott at quarterback that game but would turn to Nick Foles late in the loss to Iowa.
When Arizona beat NAU by 30 points or more they went on to have a winning record in three of the five seasons. In their first meeting of the renewed rivalry, the John Mackovic led Wildcats beat NAU 37-3 and actually started the season 3-1 before losing seven of their final eight games. In 2011 they opened the season with a 41-10 win over the Jacks, but went just 3-8 the rest of the way, including a five-game losing streak that cost Mike Stoops his job.
The Wildcats have played just five other FCS/I-AA squads in the same era (post 2002) and the results are similar. The Wildcats have just one game decided by 14 or less, the 31-21 come from behind win over Grambling in 2016. The Cas went just 3-9 that season.
In 2006 they struggled with Stephen F. Austin, winning 28-10. They went just 6-6 that season.
In three other games they won by 31 points or more. In two of those three seasons they had winning records. The lone losing season came last year when they beat Southern Utah 62-31 and finished 5-7, though it should be noted that Southern Utah was a particularly bad team finishing just 1-10.
Stephen F. Austin
South Carolina State
So, is there a magic number? Yes, a 35-point margin of victory. When the Wildcats have beaten an FCS/I-AA team by 35 points or more they have finished the season with a winning record all five times.