The Arizona Wildcats are undefeated, ranked No. 22 nationally and boast one of the West's top playmakers in Matt Scott and a surprisingly stout defense.
All of which meant exactly nothing Sunday, when the team gathered on campus to begin preparations for this week's game at No. 3 Oregon.
The Wildcats are heavy underdogs again against the Pac-12's most prolific offensive team; early Las Vegas lines have the unbeaten Ducks favored by 24 to 27 points.
Arizona (3-0) may be relevant again, but it's going to need bigger wins before receiving nationwide respect.
And while Saturday's 56-0 win over South Carolina State was nice …
"I think our guys understand that things'll be a little different beginning next weekend," first-year coach Rich Rodriguez said.
If the Wildcats hope to upset Oregon - on the road, no less - they'll need to stick to the formula that has worked so well for them through the first three weeks of the season. That means:
• Avoiding turnovers. At quarterback, Scott has thrown for 995 yards and rushed for 190 more so far this season. But it's a smaller number - one - that might be the best gauge of the senior quarterback's success. Scott has turned the ball over just once all season, an interception against Toledo in Week 1. His ball security is even more impressive, considering how often Scott has the ball in his hands. Add the quarterback's pass attempts and rush attempts together, and he's had the ball for 165 plays so far; that doesn't count the run-pass option plays that have resulted in handoffs.
"He's been phenomenal," running back Daniel Jenkins said of Scott. "He has really taken control of the offense. His completions definitely help our rhythm as an offense."
• Dodging flags. The Wildcats put together a third consecutive clean performance Saturday while South Carolina State melted down. In three games, Arizona has been penalized just 15 times for 117 yards, a 39 yards-per-game clip that's tied for 30th-best in the country. The Wildcats' opponents, meanwhile, have been flagged 33 times for 340 yards.
Oregon (3-0) has been uncharacteristically sloppy on both sides of the ball so far.
The Ducks have been penalized 28 times for 245 times over three games, almost exactly twice as many yards (127) as its opponents.
Rodriguez said he's proud of his team for avoiding "stupid penalties," and the Wildcats also appear to have learned from their few mistakes.
"They have sat up and paid attention. They've been eager to learn," Rodriguez said. "When you have a team like that: One, they're fun to coach and two, it gives you a chance. I think the guys are hungry. They play like it, and they've certainly practiced like it."
• Stiffening up. For all the preseason concerns about the Wildcats' defense, the unit has played surprisingly well - at least in terms of points. Arizona held South Carolina State scoreless Saturday, a week after surrendering 38 points to Oklahoma State at home. As a result, the Wildcats are ranked much higher in scoring defense (tied for 37th, 18.33 points per game) than total defense (61st, 382.67 yards).
Saturday's showing boosted the UA's national rankings and, possibly, adjusted their season-long expectations.
"We gave up a few plays here and there," Rodriguez said. "But with our defense and the guys we have battling in there, we're going to take every small victory we can."
The Wildcats will host Oregon State at 7 p.m. on Sept. 29. The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
• What: No. 22 Arizona at No. 3 Oregon
• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
• TV; radio: ESPN; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
Wildcats move up in national polls
The Arizona Wildcats moved up two spots in the Associated Press poll, to No. 22 nationally, following Saturday's 56-0 thumping of South Carolina State at Arizona Stadium. The Wildcats received 296 points in the poll, 190 more than 23rd-ranked Mississippi State. The UA is one of five Pac-12 teams to be ranked: Oregon sits at No. 3, Stanford is ninth, USC is 13th and UCLA is 19th.
The Wildcats (3-0) are ranked 21st in the latest coaches' poll.
Arizona moved halfway to bowl eligibility with Saturday's win. The Wildcats will open Pac-12 play this week against Oregon.