WSU at Arizona Preview
Tucson, AZ - A win this week would make Arizona bowl-eligible in consecutive seasons for the first time in a decade.
While earning a bowl berth was cause for celebration a year ago, this team has much larger goals.
Playing their first game as a ranked team in nine years, the 21st-ranked Wildcats look to stay in the hunt for a Pac-10 title and move closer to a premier bowl game Saturday when they host lowly Washington State.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made Arizona -31 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 80% of bets for this game have been placed on Washington State +31 (View College Football bet percentages).
Arizona (5-2, 3-1) was picked to finish eighth in the conference preseason poll, but enters November in second place. The Wildcats are the only Pac-10 or Big Ten member that has not played in the Rose Bowl - but that will change if they can win their last five games.
However, first things first for Arizona - in the Top 25 for the first time since Oct. 22, 2000 - and that is winning one more game to become bowl-eligible.
The Wildcats defeated then-No. 17 Brigham Young in last December's Las Vegas Bowl but haven't won at least six games - the minimum to receive a bowl invitation - in back-to-back seasons since doing it three years in a row from 1997-99.
"We don't want to just be bowl-eligible and not win out,'' Arizona free safety Cam Nelson said. "As far as a specific bowl, we haven't talked about any one. We want to go somewhere big, I'll just put it like that.''
For the Wildcats to remain in contention for its first Pac-10 title since 1993, quarterback Nick Foles needs to bounce back from his worst performance of the season.
While battling the flu in a 27-13 victory over UCLA on Oct. 24, Foles threw three interceptions, had a fumble returned for a touchdown and botched a handoff that led to a fumble. It was an uncharacteristic performance for Foles, who completed 73.9 percent of his passes for 1,152 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions in his first five games.
"I don't think there's anything to be alarmed about,'' coach Mike Stoops said of the sophomore.
Foles will likely be without two of team's top running backs for this game, but it might not make much difference against an abysmal Washington State defense.
Starting tailback Nic Grigsby, who is averaging 7.5 yards on his 71 carries, injured his right shoulder against Oregon State on Sept. 26 and was limited in each of the next two games before re-injuring the shoulder against the Bruins. He rushed for 189 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in a 59-28 win over the Cougars (1-7, 0-5) last season
Greg Nwoko, who has rushed for 190 yards on 43 attempts, also injured his left shoulder against UCLA.
If Grigsby and Nwoko can't play, much of the rushing load would fall to sophomore backup Keola Antolin, who has 49 carries for 255 yards.
Whoever lines up in the backfield for the Wildcats should have plenty of running room against a Washington State team that ranks 114th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams against the run, allowing 220.4 yards per game. The Cougars are 114th in scoring defense (37.4) and 119th in total defense (511.1).
Washington State hasn't been any better offensively, ranking 116th in scoring (15.0) and are 114th in total offense (282.8).
The Cougars are coming off last Saturday's 40-14 loss to then-No. 25 Notre Dame at the Alamodome in San Antonio, their fifth straight defeat since a 30-27 victory over SMU on Sept. 19.
Washington State, which has been outscored by an average of 26.0 points in its seven losses, once again couldn't slow down its opponent as the Fighting Irish racked up 592 total yards.
"It was a lot of missed opportunities...missed tackles," defensive end Casey Hamlett said. "There was a lot we have to fix."
Washington State has lost eight straight and 17 of 18 to Top 25 opponents, and has lost three in a row to the Wildcats since a 20-19 win Sept. 25, 2004.
After this game, the schedule is going to get much tougher for Arizona, which still visits California, hosts Pac-10 leader Oregon and closes the regular season with games at archrival Arizona State and USC.
"Hopefully our best football's in front of us,'' Stoops said. "It's going to need to be.''
Posted: 11/3/09 11:10AM ET