Utah defenders Jason Washburn (42) and Jarred DuBois made UA guard Mark Lyons and the Wildcats work hard to pull out another close win.


Dear Mr. Football: Is the Stanford-Arizona rivalry one of the greatest in Pac-10 football?

A. Wouldn't you assume, after 32 Pac-10 seasons, that at least one Stanford powerhouse was matched against one Arizona juggernaut? One classic UA-Cardinal game? Nope. Never happened.

Until today, Stanford and Arizona have never been ranked simultaneously on game day. Incredibly, Stanford has been ranked just twice when it played Arizona: No. 8 in 1992 and No. 16 in 1997. What did it mean? Nothing.

The 2-2-1 Wildcats of '92 won at Stanford 21-6, and the 2-3 Wildcats of '97 won 28-22 in Tucson.

This isn't rare. Arizona and ASU have never been ranked in the AP Top 25 when they've met during the Pac-10 years.

The only real rivalry between Stanford and Arizona was created by ex-Stanford coach Bill Walsh in 1993 when, in his autobiography, he wrote that "you had to hose yourself off" before playing Arizona, a reference to its lower academic standards and willingness to recruit junior college transfers.

Arizona beat Walsh 27-24 that year on a last-second field goal. Since then, the series hasn't produced a trickle of force.

Dear Mr. Football: Does Arizona have anything in common with Stanford?

A. The greatest Wildcat running back ever, Art Luppino, is best pals and golf buddies with Stanford grad Neel Hall. Luppino plans to be in Tucson next week (he lives in Texas) to attend the USC-Arizona game with Hall.

Hall was a Stanford undergrad during the Cardinal's 1951 Rose Bowl season when Stanford had the great Olympic decathlete Bob Mathias on the football team. Hall generally spends the UA-Stanford game in Tucson with 20 or so Stanford graduates he refers to endearingly as "a bunch of broken down old athletes."

Maybe they are older, true. But those Rose Bowl rings sure look nice, especially in Tucson.

Dear Mr. Football: Is the Pac-10 still the Conference of Quarterbacks?

A. It is the Conference of Centers. No kidding. The most difficult position at which to make the all-league first-team is center. USC's Kris O'Dowd, Arizona's Colin Baxter, Oregon State's Alex Linnenkohl and Stanford's Chase Beeler are superior.

That isn't necessarily good news for UA defensive tackle Lolomana Mikaele, who spent last week going opposite his cousin, UCLA center Eddie Williams, who is 6 feet 2 inches and 330 pounds.

"It's the same every week," Mikaele says. "I get double-duty, double-teamed by the center and guard, and this conference has the best and the biggest players in the country. You never get a week off."

Dear Mr. Football: How can an average fan tell if Mikaele holds his own?

A. You can't. It's a rugby scrum every snap. The only guy who really knows is UA defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo, who examines every play a dozen times.

His verdict: Mikaele has been terrific. "He's the rock of our front," says Tuiasosopo. "He's a tough guy; everybody respects him."

And remember this when the recruiting services put three and four stars next to the names of many recruits: It's just a guess. Mikaele's only visit was to New Mexico State, which historically might be the worst football organization on the planet.

As he was heading home from Las Cruces, changing planes in Phoenix before flying home to Honolulu, Mikaele's flight was canceled and he was stranded for most of one day. He phoned Tuiasosopo and asked if the UA would offer him a visit. After some deliberation, Arizona invited Mikaele to Tucson. He stayed. Good move.

Dear Mr. Football: Where on the scale of being well-liked is Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh?

A. Writing in the Stanford Daily this week, columnist Zach Zimmerman says, "as the Stanford football community, we treat head coach Jim Harbaugh like our savior. He has become a national icon. … He has completely revolutionized and transformed the way this nerddom is viewed by the American public."

Zimmerman suggests that Harbaugh is vastly underpaid, calling his salary "insulting."

Gee. Imagine if Stanford had beaten Oregon. The writer might've changed the title from coach to king.

Dear Mr. Football: How does Stanford Stadium rank in game-day atmosphere?

A. Put it this way: For what could be the best Stanford team since the epic 1970 Thunderchickens Rose Bowl club, Stanford is promoting today's game the way a Class A minor-league baseball team would. For $65, you can get a two-ticket, two-hamburgers, two-drinks special.

At every other Pac-10 ballpark, if the home team was as good as Stanford, you couldn't get a ticket.

Dear Mr. Football: Is Arizona's taxing stretch run - at Stanford, home against USC, at Oregon, home against ASU - unprecedented?

A. The Wildcats played exactly the same four-game finish, in order and at the same places, in 1982, beginning, eerily, on Nov. 6 at Stanford.

The Tom Tunnicliffe- and Ricky Hunley-led Wildcats rallied to beat John Elway's 5-3 Stanford team 41-27; lost a classic 48-41 home game to USC; blew a bid to the Bluebonnet Bowl in a rainstorm at 1-7-1 Oregon 13-7; and capped the year with the school's greatest upset ever over ASU, beating the No. 6 Sun Devils 28-18 and shutting them out of the Rose Bowl. That 2-2 finish was viewed as a great success in Tucson. Arizona was a junior-laden team that would open the 1983 season ranked No. 3 nationally.

Similarly, a 2-2 finish this season would be acceptable, perhaps even welcome. The most realistic goal is for UA to finish 9-3 and get the Pac-10's third-best bowl slot.

To win tonight, the Wildcats will have to play a near-perfect game. The usually dead atmosphere at Stanford Stadium is likely to come alive for three hours, providing the Cardinal with an unusual energy and a decisive victory. Quarterback Andrew Luck and the Stanford offensive line are really good.

If the Wildcats are close in the fourth quarter, with a chance to win, it will be an indication they are good enough to beat USC next week, which, in a larger picture, is more important than the game tonight. Stanford 42, Arizona 24.