The Arizona Wildcats are long shots today, too thin on both sides of the ball and too small and too slow on defense - the experts say - to hang with 10th-ranked USC.
Justin Washington was a long shot, too, and not that long ago.
Suspended by head coach Rich Rodriguez in August and buried down the depth chart for all of September, the Arizona Wildcats' defensive end has seen his role steadily increase over the last few weeks. He cracked the starting lineup last Saturday against Washington and finished with four tackles.
In doing so, Washington has allowed us all to suspend disbelief.
After all, if he can go from suspended to scout team to starter in two months, maybe the Wildcats can pull off their biggest upset of the Rodriguez era. If an out-of-shape defensive end can lose 15 pounds, why can't his program get healthy again?
"Six weeks ago, it wouldn't have even crossed my mind that I'm going to be playing," said the 6-foot-2-inch Washington, who - at 255 pounds - is 13 pounds lighter than he was two months ago. "I'm grateful. God's on my side, I'm contributing to the team, and coaches keep believing in me."
It's going to take a collective belief, and more, for the Wildcats (4-3 overall, 1-3 Pac-12) to upset USC today.
The 12:30 p.m. game will serve as a progress report, gauging just how far the UA has come since its Week 4 loss at Oregon. The Wildcats have played Oregon State to within a touchdown and fell in overtime at Stanford before thumping Washington at Arizona Stadium.
A victory over the surging Trojans (6-1, 4-1) would also help the UA inch closer to both a winning season and a bowl game. Following today's game, the Wildcats will finish their season with games against UCLA, Colorado, Utah and Arizona State.
Given the Wildcats' offensive success this year, they'll have a puncher's chance - if not better - versus everybody else left on their schedule.
But against USC?
It'll take more than just a bunch of points to stop some of the most talented players the Wildcats will see all year. The Trojans boast a quarterback, Matt Barkley, who entered the season as a Heisman Trophy favorite. Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are as fast, if not as good, as any wide receiver tandem in the country.
Mix in a bruising offensive line, a former Penn State tailback in Silas Redd, a tight end duo that coach Rich Rodriguez says "can eat peanuts off the tops of our guys' heads," and the Wildcats are in for trouble.
"You can't make too many errors against this team," UA linebacker Jake Fischer said. "Everyone's got Division 1 players, but these guys have first-round-level talent. "You've got to cut down on mistakes, know where they're trying to hit you and just run to the ball, man. You have to know what they're trying to do."
Arizona will counter with an offensive assault that's tops in the Pac-12. Quarterback Matt Scott leads the Pac-12 with 334 passing yards per game and is first in the conference in total yards per game.
Scott will be motivated, too: Barkley defeated Scott in high school, and USC has won three of the teams' four matchups since Scott enrolled in 2008.
In fact, the Trojans have won 28 of the teams' last 35 matchups, and 10 of the last 11.
Pulling off an upset will require more suspension of disbelief. It'll take a perfect performance.
"A win," Rodriguez said, "gives us momentum."
• What: No. 10 USC (6-1, 4-1) at Arizona (4-3, 1-3)
• When: 12:30 p.m.
• TV: Channel 9
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)
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