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Because I am cursed with a pretty-good understanding of mathematics, I don’t gamble. I almost never have. I’ll bet on myself to make a free throw or win a tennis match, but gambling in a casino is a sucker’s bet. (Next time you feel like placing a bet in a huge, lavish casino, stop and try to figure out how the casino got to be so big and lavish.)

Full disclosure: A long, long time ago, when I was 18 (the legal gambling age in Nevada at the time), a friend and I went to Las Vegas. He had found a place off the Strip where they played blackjack with one deck of cards. By the end of the day, my $200 was close to $15,000. But that wasn’t gambling. That was stealing.

These days, with their intricate algorithms and sophisticated methods, if I were tempted to gamble against the House, I would eventually lose. It’s just math. 

However, having said all that, there is a bet out there just screaming my name (and that of every other Arizona Wildcat fan old enough to remember when the Cats were really, really good). For example, in the decade of the 1990s, Arizona had the second-most number of wins in the entire Pac-10—more than USC, more than Stanford, UCLA, Oregon, or Arizona State. And they still didn’t go to the Rose Bowl.

This year’s Wildcat team is coming off the worst season record in school history. In the pandemic-truncated season, the Cats lost every game and were humiliated—at home—by a score of 70-7 at the hands of the Arizona State Recruiting Cheaters. (In the first game of the season, here in Tucson, Arizona led eventual Pac-12 South champion USC with under two minutes left and completely blew the game.)

But this year, they’ve got a new coach and a new vibe. Arizona is almost certainly going to finish dead last in the Pac-12 South, but things are trending upward. The new coach (who was greeted with a universal chorus of “What in the world is a Jedd Fisch?!”) has done everything right. He connected with Wildcat legends, he hired the right coaches, and he has made himself accessible to the media and to fans. Now all he needs are some football players. 

Which brings me to that bet that’s out there. The over/under for the 2021 Arizona Wildcats is a stunningly (and embarrassingly) low of 2 ½. On an over/under wager, the bettor tries to decide whether the team will win more or fewer than that number of games. If you take the under, you would win the bet of the Cats win zero, one or two games. If they win three or more games, the person who bet on the over would win. 

Now, I know that they didn’t win a game last year and, other than that fluke against USC, they didn’t really come close. But that was then. Kevin Sumlin is gone (was he ever really here?) and has been replaced by a professional. Players made great use of the weight room over the off-season. Many are bigger and stronger and some are faster. Practices are spirited and brisk. But there is still the matter of the cupboard having been left almost bare.

But 2 ½ ?! They play 12 games. They play NAU. They have San Diego State at home. If the Cats can get by BYU in Las Vegas in the season opener for both teams on Saturday, they could win that bet for optimistic fans before the nine-game conference schedule even begins.

And what does the conference schedule look like this year? Arizona has brutal road games at Oregon on Sept. 25 and at USC on Oct, 30. They also face a nasty game at Washington State the week before Thanksgiving. Pullman, Washington in November is like a Russian novel. “The cold is bitter, the wind unrelenting, and now the dog has died. At least this Christmas, we’ll have something to eat.”

They also have games at Colorado and Arizona State. The Colorado game is winnable and, by the time we get to the end of the season, Coach Herm Edwards might have already resigned under the weight of the growing recruiting scandal in Tempe.

Probably the best chance for a conference win will come when Arizona hosts UCLA on Oct. 9. By that time, the Bruins will have played nationally ranked LSU and Arizona State and, in the two weeks after the UA game, will face Washington and Oregon. This is the textbook definition of a trap game. 

Great things are not right around the corner. It’s going to take time. But, for the first time in a long time, it feels like we’re heading in the right direction.

Take the over.

 

EXTRA POINTS: Wildcat fans in the stands or watching on TV are going to need a scorecard because there are a lot of newcomers and not a whole lot of holdovers from past years … This is weird. There are two guys on the Wildcat roster with the first name Gunner. First of all, who names a kid Gunner? And the fact that they’re both on the same team isn’t even the strange part. They both wear No. 9! Duplication of numbers is legal as long as they’re not both on the field at the same time. Gunner Cruz is the starting quarterback this Saturday, while Gunner Maldonado plays defense … Five Wildcats played their high-school ball in Tucson. Receiver Jamarye Joiner and kicker Taylor Meeker-Hackett both played at Cienega, while the other three—David Watson (Amphi), Stevie Rocker (Canyon Del Oro) and Jordan Morgan (Marana)—all played in the Northwest…Watson is the son of UA softball legend Laura Espinosa...

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