Key stretch: Arizona

Without a doubt, every game matters.

With few exceptions, a single game doesn't define a season. A great victory can be deflated by an upset loss the next weekend, while a crushing defeat can be redeemed by an inspired effort later in the season.

While the Pac-12's national title contenders -- we won't name names -- need to win every game (or just about), during each preseason for every team you can point to a stretch of games on the schedule that appears defining. In terms of a team's goals, that stretch is most critical.

We've defined a "Key stretch" as three games, though we will allow for those three games to come among four.

We'll go in alphabetical order.


Key stretch: Nov. 15 vs. Washington, Nov. 22 at Utah, Nov. 28 vs. Arizona State

Why it's critical: We don't want to use rivalry games as a crutch for this feature, but the biggest hole on Rich Rodriguez resume his first two mostly productive seasons in Tucson is the 0-for-2 count in the Territorial Cup against archrival Arizona State. It's also worth noting that this already heated rivalry at present also features this: Rodriguez and Sun Devils coach Todd Graham aren't terribly friendly. It, in fact, might be the coldest relationship among Pac-12 coaches.

But the above is the Wildcats key stretch for more than a need for rivalry redemption.

Arizona has a good chance to start 4-0. It then hits a rugged stretch where 1-3 is hardly a gimme (at Oregon, USC, at Washington State, at UCLA).

The success of the 2014 season, we suspect, will be defined by the home stretch -- three winnable but challenging games against teams expected to be battling in the middle of the conference pecking order. Make no mistake: Each of these three foes, perusing the schedule in the preseason, is counting on a win over Arizona to boost its own standing.

At that point in the schedule, the Wildcats new starting QB should be in rhythm with his talented crew of receivers. Moreover, two of the final three games, including the visit from the Sun Devils in the finale, are at home. Winning all three likely would propel the Wildcats into a good bowl game, energize the 'Zona Zoo and set up the program to make a move in the Pac-12 South in 2015.