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Four Downs – October 9th: The Savior of Arizona Wildcats Football Present and Future?

FIRST DOWN: Khalil Tate – a performance for the ages!

Two weeks ago I wrote that Arizona football was a dying brand under Rich Rodriguez. And when Saturday’s game in Boulder kicked off I thought no differently. Nor did most Arizona football fans.

But when starting QB Brandon Dawkins, who I maintained shouldn’t be playing in the first place, was injured on a flagrant late hit on the opening drive, Arizona’s season immediately changed.

True sophomore Khalil Tate, whose redshirt was burned midway through last season, put on a performance no Arizona football fan will soon forget. More importantly, Arizona won its first Pac-12 road game in nearly two years, 45-42, over Colorado and improved their 2017 record to 3-2.

Tate rushed 14 times for 327 yards and 4 touchdowns…and completed 11 of 12 passes for 142 yards and a TD. The rushing yards were the most in NCAA HISTORY by a quarterback. Think about that for a second…there has never been a performance on the ground better by a college QB. Staggering!

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The crazy part is…Tate likely wouldn’t have seen the field early-on had Dawkins not gotten hurt. And he ended the night by setting an NCAA record. It was as incredible a performance as I,  a college football diehard, can remember. Lamar Jackson of Louisville won the Heisman Trophy last year as a dual threat quarterback who never came close to Tate’s yardage on the ground in a single game!

While being named officially Arizona’s starting quarterback going forward is a formality, Tate has brought excitement back to a program that was punchless two weeks ago. If next Saturday’s game against UCLA doesn’t attract in the ballpark of 45,000-50,000 spectators, significantly more than the 36,000 that attended the Arizona-Utah game on September 22nd, I’d be shocked. The Wildcats have their quarterback…finally a long term answer at a position that’s been a roulette wheel since Nick Foles’ eligibility expired in 2011.

For an athletic department which has experienced a wave of negativity in the last few weeks with record low football attendance and a major basketball scandal, Tate is the breath of fresh air they needed. If his QB continues to produce at a high level, could Rich Rodriguez’s tenure, which seemed all but finished after two September home losses, be extended for at least another season? The answer is a resounding YES!

I could talk about how Arizona’s defense reverted to its horrendous form of recent past seasons under Rodriguez…but I’ll keep it strictly positive this time. There’s reason for major excitement in Tucson on the football field, at least for one week, and when’s the last time any UofA fan could say that?

SECOND DOWN: Predicting the final regular season records (excluding conference championship games) for the current Power 5 conference undefeated teams in college football

With previously undefeated Oklahoma and Michigan losing at home on Saturday as big favorites, it’s time to evaluate how the remaining Power 5 unbeatens will fare the rest of the way…

Alabama (6-0): They play two tough road games in November…at Mississippi State and at rival Auburn. While the Tigers have a decent chance to defeat their rivals, I’ll predict an undefeated 12-0 regular season for Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide.

Clemson (6-0): At North Carolina State on November 4th might be tricky but the Tigers will be favored in that game as well as the other five they play. I’ll say 12-0 for the defending national champs heading into the ACC Championship Game.

Penn State (6-0): After their bye week, the Nittany Lions face Michigan at home, at Ohio State, and at Michigan State. No way they survive that gauntlet with less than a loss. Final projected record: 11-1

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Georgia (6-0): The Bulldogs might have the best defense in the nation but they likely won’t survive a trip to Auburn as well as the regular season finale against rival Georgia Tech. Final projected record: 11-1

Washington (6-0): The Huskies have played as easy a slate as anyone in the country thus far. Unfortunately their hopes of an undefeated season will come to an end on The Farm (Stanford) in mid-November. Final projected record: 11-1

TCU (5-0): I’ll say the Horned Frogs undefeated season comes to an end this weekend in Manhattan, Kansas (Kansas State). Final projected record: 10-2

Wisconsin (5-0): The schedule is generous to say the least with the toughest game being a home date against recently knocked off Michigan. For some reason the November 4th game in Indiana scares me a bit but not enough to pick the upset. Final projected record: 12-0

Washington State (6-0): Should be 8-0 with a final four games of: at Arizona, Stanford, at Utah, and at Washington. I’ll predict a 1-3 finish. Final projected record: 9-3

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Miami (4-0): Without star RB Mark Walton, now done for the season with an ankle injury, the Hurricanes will lose to at least one of Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and/or Notre Dame. Final projected record: 9-2

THIRD DOWN: The Cardinals STINK, Aaron Rodgers’ legend grows, and my thoughts on each NFL Week 5 Sunday game.

-You poor, poor Cardinals fans…your team this year is just bad. The Eagles 34-7 waxing was an example where the score was closer than the game itself. The team’s lack of offensive line support and weapons on offense were well-established…yet the defense played with a surprising lack of effort. Can I revise my win total to 5 or 6? As I said last week Cardinals fans, it’s time to start scouting the 2017 NFL Draft.

-Is Aaron Rodgers the best quarterback in terms of physical talent that the league has ever seen? While he’ll never surpass Tom Brady’s on field accomplishments, Rodgers ability to make plays by scrambling and/or throwing on the run is unprecedented. On Sunday, he once again staged an epic 4th quarter drive to break the hearts of Cowboys fans. And being a Packers fan myself, I couldn’t get enough of it!

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-I predicted the Giants to go 11-5 this season. Now without star WR Odell Beckham (lost for the season to a broken ankle on Sunday) and already having that same amount of losses as I predicted, I think it’s time to wonder if they can actually get to 5 wins? Poor Giants fans.

-And somehow, after winning the ugliest game of the week over the Browns, the Jets are 3-2. Go figure? Coach Todd Bowles deserves a gigantic raise for getting that hideous roster to 3 wins in 5 games. PS – the Browns with two missed field goals and two turnovers inside their opponents’ 10 yard line really, really, really stink.

-Did I say that the Jets-Browns was the ugliest game of the week? I meant the Dolphins 16-10 win over the Marcus Mariota-less Titans. Those who purchased tickets in South Florida should be entitled to a refund for watching what looked like amateur football.

-The Jaguars defensive dominance in Pittsburgh was Sunday’s most shocking development. Even future Hall of Famer, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was questioning his future after throwing 5 INTs. It’s hard to argue that the Jaguars possess the league’s best defense right now. There’s a good chance they could be well above .500 heading into a Week 12 matchup in Arizona.

-I don’t have a lot to say about Cincinnati’s 20-16 win over Buffalo. Both teams are average at best, and while both sit 3-2, I’d be surprised if either surpassed the .500 mark come the end of the season.

-Cam Newton is playing at a ridiculously high level once again and the Panthers are most certainly contenders in the NFC. Carolina’s 27-24 win in Detroit was much closer than the game itself.

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-I predicted the Colts to beat the 49ers, 27-23. Final score: Colts 26-23 in overtime. Every blind squirrel gets a nut I guess. Either way, the 49ers remain winless and have a ways to go in their development.

-The Raiders are up there with the most disappointing teams in the league thus far. After scoring 71 points in two victories to open the season, they’ve combined for only 37 in the last three weeks. And they gave up 30 to the Ravens…a team who had shown no offensive spark in weeks? Ugh.

-Nice win for Seattle in LA…in the third ugliest game of the day, the Rams failed to capitalize so many times that they’ll be sick watching the game tape. For a young team, they have reason for excitement though.

-The Chiefs are really, really good now. Deshaun Watson, the Texans rookie QB, is going to be really, really good. That was a fun Sunday night game with 40 combined points scored in the 4th quarter. Just sad that Texans star defensive end and all-around good guy, J.J. Watt fractured a bone in his knee and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

FOURTH DOWN: Do the Diamondbacks have a chance to rally?

I started this column out so positive…now it has to end on such a negative. Sorry D-Backs fans, you’ve had a hell of a run. But if you think you’re beating the Dodgers three times in four days, you’re just wrong. Unfortunately Arizona’s inconsistent pitching reared its ugly head this weekend and the Diamondbacks face elimination in the 5 game series against the Dodgers.

Taijuan Walker in Game 1 was an utter disaster. Robbie Ray in Game 2 was far from sharp. The D-Backs offense is still fantastic but as the adage goes, “good pitching beats good hitting in the playoffs.”

Can Zack Greinke, the $220 million ace save Arizona’s season on Monday night? I’ll say yes. But the series ends in four games on Tuesday.

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In addition, and most importantly for me, #GoCubsGo!

 

To read previous entries of my blog, click here. Also make sure to follow me on Twitter @eacohen83.