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Dear Mr. Football: How does life change when a football team beats Oregon and catapults into the top 10?
A: When Arizona’s football team returned from Oregon at 3:30 a.m., Friday, Molly O’Mara, associate director of media services, went directly to her office at the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and worked until 6. She “slept” in a nearby office for 60 minutes and then hit overdrive.
In the week to come, O’Mara arranged 18 interviews for Rich Rodriguez beyond his routine post-practice and weekly press conference duties. She coordinated 21 player interviews (not including weekly media sessions). And she was creative, not settling merely for the go-to interviewees such as Jared Tevis and Mickey Baucus. Ten Wildcats were featured.
When RichRod concluded 15 minutes on the Pac-12’s weekly teleconference, five writers were waiting to ask questions that didn’t make it to the conversation.
Nobody asked, “Are you a one-week wonder?”
Dear Mr. Football: Are ticket scalpers finally going to be busy working the Sixth Street crowd?
A: On Monday, the NCAA’s official secondary market for ticket sales, PrimeSport.com, listed 331 tickets available in section 208. That’s in the upper deck, east side, with views of Northern Mexico. Those nosebleed tickets were offered for -. By Wednesday, they were sold out.
The only people with “less intimate” tickets tonight will be the USC marching band, in high altitude, section 209.
Dear Mr. Football: What Wildcat played the greatest game ever in a victory over USC?
A: In 1990, Arizona beat the Trojans 35-26 in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and senior linebacker Kevin Singleton made one tackle. Dick Tomey told me it was the greatest performance he had ever seen.
Singleton, who made a career-high 16 tackles against USC in 1988, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January of 1989, underwent 10 months of chemotherapy and, in January 1990, had a five-hour bone marrow transplant at the UA Medical Center. His twin brother, future NFL first-round draft pick Chris Singleton, was the bone marrow provider.
Against overwhelming odds, Kevin Singleton insisted on completing his UA football career. The NCAA allowed him a sixth season; he made it back for training camp, 1990. He had lost 40 pounds. He made just five tackles all season, including a key stop against the Trojans.
After that ’90 game, Cheryl Smith, wife of USC coach Larry Smith — the man who had recruited the Singleton twins to Arizona from New Jersey — followed Kevin to the locker room and embraced him. There were tears everywhere.
Here’s the good part: Singleton beat his illness and tonight will run onto the turf during the pre-game fireworks, carrying the “A” flag to midfield. Now 47, he is the long-time manager of Fitness 4 Home Superstore in Scottsdale. His UA blood runs deep: The weight-lifting and workout gear at his store is set against the backdrop of an Arizona football wall mural.
Dear Mr. Football: How was UA senior safety Jared Tevis able to restrain himself after winning at Oregon’s Autzen Stadium?
A: Practice, practice, practice. It was the third time (2007, 2013, 2014) Tevis had been on the field after Arizona beat the Ducks, which is some sort of record.
In 2007, as a middle school football player in Oro Valley, Tevis got tickets to watch Arizona play No. 2 Oregon. The Wildcats stunned the Ducks, 34-24, and Tevis and his buddies, sitting in the old north end-zone bleacher seats, climbed past security and rushed the field.
“We’d sit in the bleachers and try to catch the field goals in pre-game practice,” Tevis remembered. “When that Oregon game ended, we all jumped onto the field and celebrated with a few thousand other fans.”
Tevis might have the largest fan contingent at the stadium tonight. “I have cousins, aunt, uncles, my parents, my girlfriend’s mom, and a lot of people from my dad’s family are coming in from Southern California.”
Dear Mr. Football: Is poor, old USC coach Steve Sarkisian really down in numbers, working from a deficit?
A: Sark has 23 full-time employees on his staff, not including secretaries or academic support and strength and conditioning people. That’s like an NFL staff.
The most defining employee of Sark’s staff and the USC culture is Alex Rios, whose job title is “recruiting analyst.”
Rios has worked for the “Conan” TV show (he was in charge of the “green room,” where celebrities wait to go on the air) and was a production assistant for “American Idol.” Rios was a “talent escort” for Beyonce, Jack Black and Judas Priest. Really. Rios was the band manager for a folk-punk band “Walter Mitty and His Makeshift Orchestra,” sold luxury eyeware in Hollywood and among his treasured day-to-day football duties is to produce and prepare the music playlist for USC practices.
By comparison, Arizona’s football music guy is Andrew Warsaw, whose title is operations coordinator. There’s no Hollywood in Warsaw. He was the football ops guy at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy before arriving at Arizona.
Dear Mr. Football: Who is likely the best player on the field tonight?
A: It’s USC junior defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who is a cross between the late Hall of Famers Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen, or something like that.
Game-changing defensive linemen are the hardest players for college football recruiters to find (and sign). Almost everybody in the Pac-12 has a standout QB; almost nobody has a player like Williams. At USC, that’s unsurprising.
Since 2003, USC has had 14 first-team All-Pac-12 defensive linemen. Arizona had one, Brooks Reed, in 2009. Williams’ career-high in tackles is 12, against Arizona, last year. Gulp.
Dear Mr. Football: Has USC QB Cody Kessler ever thrown an interception?
A: Kessler is 177 for 177 in no picks this year, no joke. The last time a FBS quarterback didn’t throw an interception over an entire season was 1991, when Virginia’s Matt Blundin went 215 throws without one.
What do those numbers mean? A year ago, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota arrived at Arizona Stadium on a streak of 343 passes without an interception. His first pass was intercepted by Scooby “Strip” Wright and Arizona rolled to a 42-16 stunner over No. 5 Oregon.
Dear Mr. Football: Is Arizona unbeatable as a Top 10 team at home?
A: The Wildcats are 7-4 at home when ranked in the top 10. Their losses were fully unexpected.
In 1983, No. 9 Arizona lost to a 2-3 Oregon club, 19-10.
In 1994, No. 6 Arizona lost to, ugh, Colorado State, 21-16.
In 1998, No 10 Arizona lost to No. 5 UCLA, 52-28.
In 2010, No. 9 Arizona lost to a 2-2 Oregon State team, 29-27.
Funny how things change. A week ago, people were wondering how many games Arizona might lose. Now they’re asking how many games the Wildcats might win.
If Sark plays it smart, old-style smash-mouth, student-body left and right football, the Trojans seem apt to overpower the Wildcats and win 31-23.
But the time to beat USC is now, not next year and not thereafter. This is a game for RichRod to win even though the Trojans have the talent edge at most positions.
Arizona 34, USC 30
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