SEATTLE - The Arizona Wildcats' 2011 season effectively ended, socked in by a fog of failure, when they lost to Oregon State three weeks ago. Mike Stoops was fired, replaced by defensive coordinator Tim Kish amid hopes that a maybe new coach - and a different culture - could get the UA to December without any further embarrassment.
But a funny thing happened on Arizona's road to irrelevance.
The Wildcats drubbed UCLA at home, playing well enough that tonight's game against Washington carries some unexpected importance.
Should Arizona (2-5, 1-4 Pac-12) somehow beat the Huskies, then defeat fellow doormats Utah and Colorado and outlast Louisiana-Lafayette in its season finale, well, a lost season could be somehow found.
Of course, just because Arizona finally defeated somebody doesn't mean it can beat anybody - much less everybody.
"It's definitely exciting, but it's back to work," UA quarterback Nick Foles said. "The vibe … it's excitement, but at the same time, it's guys working, just like they did last week."
And, given the way the Wildcats and Huskies have matched up over the years, winning tonight isn't impossible. Arizona is 3-4 at Husky Stadium since 1998, when quarterback Ortege Jenkins somersaulted into the end zone with 4 seconds left in a play immortalized as the "Leap at the Lake."
Stoops' first team defeated the Huskies in 2004. Three years later, Willie Tuitama and Mike Thomas sparked a furious rally that led to a 48-41 win.
Arizona could have - should have - won the last time it traveled to Husky Stadium, but a bad bounce off Delashaun Dean's shoe led to a Mason Foster interception and an improbable UW win.
There's a difference, however, between this year's team and past vintages; Washington is much better as the Wildcats are a lot worse.
The Huskies (5-2, 3-1) are poised to secure their second straight bowl game. They have a talented quarterback in Keith Price. Tailback Chris Polk leads the Pac-12 in rushing, and receivers Devin Aguilar and Jermaine Kearse boast big-play ability.
But Washington's defense is questionable. Stanford ran for a school-record 446 yards in last week's 65-21 win over the Huskies.
UW has allowed 51 and 65 points in its two losses this season. Nebraska thumped the Huskies 51-38 in their final nonconference game.
"Unfortunately, but fortunately, we've been in this situation before. This territory isn't completely foreign to us," UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I think we have a nice plan, not only from a football standpoint and execution standpoint but from a psyche standpoint and an emotional standpoint."
Washington will match up against an Arizona defense that has been decimated by injuries, inconsistency and - recently - suspensions.
Cornerback Shaquille Richardson and nickel back Jourdon Grandon will not play today because of their roles in a midfield brawl with UCLA on Oct. 20; safety Mark Watley and cornerback Lyle Brown have been suspended for the first half. The thin secondary could prevent the UA from running its revamped double-eagle flex defense. Kish dusted off the Desert Swarm-era front in his first-ever game as a head coach, and the UA limited UCLA to just 37 rushing yards.
• What: Arizona at Washington
• When: 7:30 p.m.
• TV: FSAZ
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
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Follow the Cats on reporter Ryan Finley's blog: azstarnet.com/finley