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Ship sailing straight on course for Arizona football

This story is courtesy of the Arizona Daily Wildcat

After Arizona’s second straight loss and a season sweep by the Oregon schools, the Wildcat nation is sounding a bit pessimistic about the season.

Only 44,153 fans piled into Arizona Stadium to watch the Wildcats lose a back-and-forth shootout to No. 18 Oregon State — just 234 more fans than the South Carolina State game had two weeks ago.

When you factor in the additional Beavers supporters on Saturday, the number of Arizona faithful may have been less than the FCS game.

The low attendance numbers are understandable in a sense — the Wildcats were coming off of a humiliating 49-0 loss to No. 2 Oregon. But even with attendance dwindling and Arizona in the midst of a murder’s row of games — seven of eight against ranked teams as of now — the Wildcats are right where they’re supposed to be and living up to expectations.

Going into the season, many thought this would be a 5-7 team; at the Pac-12 media day, journalists picked Arizona to finish fourth in the South division, and they’re right on schedule.

The upset of Oklahoma State was a shock, and the bar was probably raised a bit too high afterward. The Wildcats aren’t a top 25 team, and the last two games proved that.

With the 0-2 start in conference, the dream of winning the Pac-12 South and potentially going to the Rose Bowl is all but dead.

Still, Arizona is on course for a bowl game and that’s miles ahead of where it was last year.

Just look at the stats:

Arizona is ranked 94th in total defense, allowing 451 yards per game, and 77th in scoring defense, giving up 28.4 points per game. Those aren’t pretty numbers, but they’re improvements from last year and they came against some great offenses.

Plus when you consider how shallow this team is at linebacker and the lack of proven talent on the line, that’s actually a pretty significant improvement.

Offensively the Wildcats are top 10, actually exactly at No. 10, in total yards, gaining 538 yards per game. So just like last season they have a good offense and a weak defense, but under head coach Rich Rodriguez they’ve been able to find more of a balance.

This team is far from flawless, though.

If Scott is off target, or gets injured for a significant portion of time, Arizona only has the talent to compete with the bottom of the Pac-12 barrel (see Oregon).

Also the special teams, outside of punter Kyle Dugandzic, have been awful. The Wildcats have posed zero threat in the return game and place kicker John Bonano is just 4-for-9 on the season and 3-for-8 inside 40-yards.

The two game losing streak might get worse, too. Arizona travels next to No. 18 Stanford and then has No. 23 Washington and No. 13 USC at home. And don’t forget about No. 25 UCLA at the tail end of the stretch.

If the Wildcats can pull out one of those games, they should win two of their final three — they play an awful Colorado team for Homecoming, then play in Salt Lake City versus a banged-up Utah side, and the Territorial Cup is always a toss-up.

Even with tempered expectations Arizona can finish 6-6, make a bowl and enter into the new era on a good note. Considering how dismally the Wildcats ended last season, 2012 has, and will be, a major improvement.

Kyle Johnson is a journalism junior, he can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via WildcatSports or KyleJohnsonUA