Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
We now know when the Arizona Wildcats will begin the 2020 football season. Maybe. Hopefully.
Nothing is certain amid a pandemic that has kept college sports from happening for nearly five months, but as it stands now the UA is set to open Sept. 26 at home against rival ASU. It will be the first time the Wildcats have started the season against the Sun Devils, whom they’ve lost three straight against, since 1946.
Arizona has five home games and five on the road in this revised 10-game conference-only schedule. A link to the full schedule, for Arizona and the Pac-12, can be found here, while below are some takeaways from the new slate:
Considering the massive amount of uncertainty that remains amid an ongoing pandemic, the revised schedule does allow for some early games to be moved back if something prevents one team or another from playing.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said during a virtual press conference that this was the onus behind having Arizona and ASU open against each other, since those schools would likely be in the same boat in terms of local conditions. The Wildcats and Sun Devils both have an off date on Oct. 17, allowing for the opener to be moved to this date if needed.
Arizona could also have its road opener at Washington, currently set for Oct. 3, moved to that date since the Huskies also have the same off week.
There’s also an open week between the end of the regular season (Dec. 3) and the Pac-12 title game, which is set for either Dec. 18 or 19, when teams could move a game to if needed.
A tough start
Arizona’s schedule is a lot tougher at the outset than beforehand. And not just because Hawaii, Portland State and Texas Tech are no longer on it.
Originally, Arizona’s first three conference games were against Stanford, UCLA and Colorado, none of which are expected to contend for a Pac-12 title.
Now? The Wildcats will face ASU (home), Washington (road), USC (home) and Utah (road) in four of their first five games.
Arizona is breaking in a whole new defensive staff and only had one week of spring practice, so be wary of a slow start.
Triple-digit Duel in the Desert?
The Sept. 26 date for the Territorial Cup matchup is the earliest in series history. And this normally heated matchup could be the hottest ever in terms of game time temperature.
The warmest it’s been at kickoff of an Arizona/ASU game since 2000 is 84 degrees, per researched conducted by ASU’s media relations department, that coming in 2017 in Tempe when the game was played in the afternoon. The average high temperature in Tucson on Sept. 26 is 92, with a record high of 104, though there’s no doubt this game will be played at night since Arizona hasn’t had a daytime kickoff at home in September in more than a decade.
Ironically, when Arizona lost 24-14 at ASU last November, the game had the “coldest” temperature at kickoff, a brisk 51 degrees.
Welcome back, Cal!
The California Golden Bears were not on Arizona’s original 2020 schedule, one of two schools—along with Washington State—the Wildcats were set to skip this season as they did last year. But if there’s a team the UA wouldn’t mind adding, based on recent history, it’s Cal, which comes to Tucson on Nov. 14.
Arizona has won five straight against the Golden Bears, most recently in 2018 when the Wildcats used pick-sixes by Azizi Hearn and Scottie Young Jr. to rally for a 24-17 victory. Also included in that streak is the infamous Hill Mary game, in 2014, when the UA pulled off a miraculous comeback at home that was capped by Anu Solomon’s Hail Mary touchdown pass to Austin Hill.
Cal, which went 8-5 in 2019, hasn’t won at Arizona Stadium since 2004 when some quarterback named Aaron Rodgers led it to a 38-0 triumph.
While Cal was the only addition to the league slate for Arizona, it did have another game’s location changed. The Wildcats’ first Pac-12 game was supposed to be Sept. 12 vs. Stanford, now that game is the regular-season finale on Dec. 5 and in Palo Alto.
Finishing at home on a Friday
Arizona’s original schedule was to include two Friday night games in October, at home against Colorado and at Washington. Now it has one, at home Nov. 20 against Oregon in what for now is the home finale.
Asked about still having weeknight games on the schedule—league-wide there are eight—Scott didn’t seem to think there would be any additional issues that would arise from not playing exclusively on Saturdays.
“It has not been felt thus far that there is not a significant health and safety difference between Friday and Saturday games,” he said.
Arizona’s Friday game comes at the tail end of a two-game homestand, so at least the shortened week will not involve a travel day, but what if the Wildcats (or Ducks, for that matter) have players test positive within two weeks of the Oregon game? An extra day for them to get cleared to return can only help.
Season-ending California swing
Arizona’s final two games, as of now, are in the Golden State. The Wildcats are set to visit UCLA on Nov. 28 before going to Stanford on Dec. 5.
California hasn’t been a happy place for Arizona in recent memory. It has lost four straight in the state overall, winning at Cal in overtime in 2017, and hasn’t won at UCLA since 2010 or at Stanford since 2006.
The Rose Bowl and Stanford Stadium are also natural grass surfaces, which has been a major bugaboo for Arizona. Since installing artificial turf in Arizona Stadium prior to the 2013 season, the Wildcats are 4-17 on the real stuff with all four wins coming at Colorado’s Folsom Field.