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Must-win and trap games of 2017: Arizona Wildcats

When is it too early to start dissecting the 2017 football schedule? Whenever it was, it is behind us..

We’re taking a look at some of the more important games each Pac-12 team has waiting for them in the fall: the must-wins and the trap games. First up: Arizona.

Must-win game: at Cal, Oct. 21

It was just a couple of years ago when Arizona finished atop the Pac-12 South, when the division had five nationally-ranked teams. Since then, it has been a rapid descent and, at this stage, it’s hard to be too optimistic about a Colorado-like improvement next year. In the Wildcats’ first six games of the season, they’re looking at just two games where Las Vegas would put a minus number next to their name. If betting lines were made today, they would be underdogs against Houston, Utah, Colorado and UCLA. To reach bowl eligibility, they’ll probably have to win at least one of those games, but none qualify for must-win status. When the second half of the season begins against Cal, though, that’s a game the Wildcats likely won’t be able to afford to drop. It’s too early, of course, to pretend like we can accurately forecast how the landscape will look in October with much accuracy, but Cal, like Arizona, figures to be a bottom-tier Pac-12 team. Justin Wilcox assembled an impressive staff since his late arrival as the Bears’ new head coach, but it won’t be a quick fix in Berkeley. If Arizona can’t beat Cal, it won’t be expected to fare much better down the stretch.

Trap game: at UTEP, Sept. 16

Coaches claim they don’t think this way, but I think they, just like fans and media members, look at the schedule and make mental notes: win, win, lose, that could go either way, lose, win, etc. Whatever the pattern may be. Looking down Arizona’s schedule it goes: Northern Arizona (win), Houston (probably a loss), UTEP (win), Utah (probably a loss) and so on. The Wildcats have to be confident they will beat UTEP. The Miners finished in last place in the Conference USA’s South Division last year and haven’t won a bowl game since Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was 4 years old (1967). If Arizona can’t beat UTEP, Rodriguez’s future would be a hot topic in Tucson. To be clear, Arizona should win, but it’s on the road, it’s right before conference play starts and it’s against a caliber of opponent that might be harder to get up for. It’s definitely a trap game.