Even before the biggest sorta-secret in Tucson -- receiver Juron Criner's appendectomy on Monday -- was officially acknowledged Thursday after it was officially denied for two days, Arizona's chances didn't see terribly good at Oklahoma State.
That proved true as the Cowboys thoroughly dominated every aspect of a 37-14 victory.
First reaction: Oklahoma State might be very good. It looked like a top-10 team. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon look like the nation's best pass-catch combination (and, yes, I considered Oklahoma and USC). Outstanding offensive line, too. And the Cowboys' defense impressed me.
So there's that.
(And I can't help but flash back to 2008, when Oregon was the more physical team pushing the Cowboys around in the Holiday Bowl. Coach Mike Gundy said after the game that his team needed to get more physical. Well, welcome to 2011, and a Cowboys team that can still throw over you but also can run over you and play good defense).
As for Arizona, the performance fit in with the less optimistic preseason appraisals: Questionable front seven on defense and a painfully young, rebuilt offensive line that figures to struggle, particularly with run blocking. And, yes, injuries in the secondary have reduced a unit of strength to one that's only middling.
The Wildcats looked like a rebuilding team. Problem is, their next two opponents are as good if not better than the Cowboys: Stanford and Oregon. Game five -- at USC -- is no patsy either. Based on Thursday night, most would project a 1-4 start, which would mean a nine-game losing streak against FBS foes. That won't make anyone happy in Tucson.
I do not think Mike Stoops should be on the "hot seat," even if that happens. But this season might very well test his leadership. He will be challenged to keep his locker room together during a tough first month of the season.
And if he does, and the Wildcats can get healthy, there is hope at midseason, when the schedule gets decidedly more manageable. If Stoops leads these Wildcats to another bowl game, it might turn out to be his best coaching performance yet.
Some links from the game.