BERKELEY, Calif. — Of the 72 teams in the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC and American Athletic Conference, just one opened the season with four of its first five conference games on the road.
You guessed it — the Arizona Wildcats.
“Four out of five, that’s a little different,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said this week. “You’d like to think with just 12 opportunities, no matter where you go, home or away, you’re excited about playing. But there’s no question when you’re home with your home fans and your student section behind you, it gives you a little bit of a comfortable feeling.
“But we should be used to it by now.”
The UA’s early-season tour wraps up this afternoon when the Wildcats face 1-7 Cal at 12:30. With a win, Arizona can get through the four road games with a 2-2 mark before playing its final four games of the regular season all within state limits. The UA (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12) will play three straight home games before traveling to Arizona State on Nov. 30.
“It’s always tough playing on the road, but I kinda like it; I like silencing the crowd,” quarterback B.J. Denker said. “We struggled on the road last year, but now that we are progressing and getting better, it’s good.
“We want to finish this up and then come and take care of business at home.”
In order to finish things up on a positive note, Arizona has to get by a Cal team that has — putting it nicely — struggled in Pac-12 play this season. The Golden Bears, led by former Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, are 0-5 so far in league play. Dykes’ squad has been outscored 226-82 so far and its closest game was a 22-point home loss to Washington State.
Cal ranks last in the conference in scoring offense, scoring defense and total defense.
But the message this week has been that despite its struggles, Cal is due for a good game and has weapons on offense and defense.
And like last week against Colorado, Rodriguez isn’t letting his team take anything for granted today.
“I’m not cutting my team down when I say we’re not going to overwhelm anybody,” the second-year coach said. “You can just look at us, size-wise and depth-wise. We have to play our tails off to win. If we would have played poorly last week, we lose. If we play poorly this week, we lose.”
Adding to the challenge for Rodriguez today is that he’s not all that familiar with Dykes and Cal.
The Bears weren’t on Arizona’s schedule last year. When Rodriguez brought his team to face Washington, USC and Utah, he had an idea what to expect. And even with Colorado, even though the Buffaloes have a new coach, Rodriguez was familiar with their personnel.
Today will be different.
To help prepare, Rodriguez said he and his staff watched film of Dykes’ teams at Louisiana Tech the past few seasons.
“Our first time through the league, you learn a lot about your opponents,” Rodriguez said. “We have to make sure we’re prepared.”