Arizona paid NAU $420,000 and Texas-San Antonio $700,000 to play football in Tucson this season, but the most telling expense might’ve been a $2,500 lotto the Wildcats offered to Zona Zoo.

The school’s student section, notorious in recent years for exiting at halftime, was offered this deal: If you stay until the fourth quarter, five students will randomly be selected to win $500 payments.

What college kid, dining on ramen noodles during the week, wouldn’t like those odds?

But Arizona’s blah-blah-blah non-conference schedule didn’t long keep the attention of those in the Zoo. After a listless first half, in which the Wildcats led UTSA 24-6, about half of maybe 8,000 Zoo-goers were gone.

It was a statement about between-the-tackles football, Arizona’s lack of explosiveness, and, more than anything else, the lack of drama.

The Wildcats won 38-13, leaving the pre-conference season unscarred and the mystery of Rich Rodriguez’s second Arizona team unsolved.

Are these guys any good?

Although the fans didn’t buy it, the NAU-UNLV-UTSA prelude was almost a necessary football evil. It was like bumper-pad bowling. You couldn’t lose, but neither could you fully test yourself under duress.

Enormous tasks remain for the 2013 Wildcats, with lingering doubts about their potential in a conference that now boasts national contenders Oregon, UCLA and Washington.

Walk-over victories against NAU, UNLV and Texas-San Antonio, and a payout of $1,120,000 to a pair of designated home victims, provided no resolution.

“Our identity, or whatever you call it, is pretty much established,” said RichRod. “Now we’ve got to get better at executing.”

He said he was “absolutely” pleased. What undefeated coach wouldn’t say that?

About 4,000 students left the possibility of pocketing $500 on the table because the most entertaining action was Ka’Deem Carey’s new touchdown dance/pose. But, c’mon, Carey scored on runs of 4 and 7 yards.

Is that any reason to pose?

When the Wildcats had the hammer in the second quarter, leading 17-6 with 8:35 remaining, and later, up 24-6 with 1:40 to go – with three timeouts – they twice went three-and-out with a punt.

They neither pushed the Roadrunners around nor dazzled them with big plays. And wasn’t that what Arizona should’ve been expected to do, in Game 3 of a new season, against a team playing organized football for only the third year?

This isn’t a criticism. It’s reality. It is the preliminary stage of a considerable reconstruction project. Arizona’s struggle against UTSA and its inability to charm a (bribed) student section are an indication of the sundry projects RichRod has on a to-get-done list.

Historically, this was the weakest opening threesome on an Arizona schedule since 1975, when Jim Young’s third UA team beat Pacific 16-0, Wyoming 14-0 and Northwestern 41-6 to the amusement of no one. Those three combined to finish 10-23-1 that year.

Now, 38 years later, the UA drew just 41,661 against UTSA. That’s way too many empty seats when you’ve got to pay an opponent $700,000 to show up. By game’s end, the odds of winning $500 in the Zona Zoo lotto were improved to about 1,000 to 1.

Arizona’s first touchdown Saturday was a pass to true freshman Samajie Grant, which is indicative of whole process. Grant is a potential standout, one of seven true freshmen to play this season. The last time Arizona played more true freshmen in a season was 1991, when 10 Wildcats, among them Warner Smith, Mani Ott, Jim Hoffman, Charlie Camp, Ontiwan Carter and Paul Stamer, were deployed extensively.

That Arizona team went 4-7, the worst of Dick Tomey’s years. It became the down payment for the Desert Swarm years to follow.

Those true freshmen joining Grant on Saturday, including linebacker Scooby Wright and receiver Nate Phillips, are in a similar situation.

There have been more promising starts by a new Arizona coaching staff. In his 16th game with Arizona, Larry Smith’s 1981 Wildcats shocked No. 1 USC in Los Angeles 13-10. And there have been worse. In his 16th game as Arizona’s coach, Mike Stoops lost at No. 1 USC 41-21.

RichRod’s 16th game at Arizona extends his record to 11-5 and carries him to the Pac-12 season undefeated and untested. He’s yet had to face a team ranked No.1, but his club’s next game, Sept. 28 at Washington, might soon seem like it.