ASU football will get tough tests early, as UA Cats coast

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                </div>There are two distinctly different philosophies when it comes to dealing with the first month or so of the college football season. Some coaches want the wins, to make sure […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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There are two distinctly different philosophies when it comes to dealing with the first month or so of the college football season.

Some coaches want the wins, to make sure they go into conference play with some momentum – and a winning record – and would prefer to play weaker teams.

Other coaches want to be able to face tougher competition in the early part of the season.  These are the coaches that are more concerned about being ready for conference play by being tested in August and September.  They want the kind of teams that will challenge them early to prepare them for the games that are most important later.

This season, Arizona’s Pac-12 football fans will get a chance to compare the results of each approach to scheduling.

Arizona State has one of the tougher early-season schedules in recent program history and includes Wisconsin, Stanford, USC, and Notre Dame in the first five games.

The Devils start the schedule with a should-win game, hosting Sacramento State, a 6-5 team last season that is projected to finish sixth in the Big Sky Conference this season.  But after that, the road is full of potholes.

Wisconsin is traditionally one of the toughest teams in the Big 10 and last year went to the Rose Bowl, where they fell a touchdown short of victory against Oregon.  ESPN likes that game enough to put it on their telecast schedule.

Stanford and USC should be among the top two or three in their respective divisions of the Pac-12 this season.  And Notre Dame played Alabama in the BCS Championship last year.

The match-up with Notre Dame is one of those games that second-year head coach Todd Graham calls a ‘marque’ game that he likes to schedule each year.  The Oct. 5 game is a gamble because a national audience (NBC) will be tuned in and the Sun Devils will be under enormous pressure to put on a good show.  If Notre Dame overwhelms the Devils, ASU will go into the rest of the conference schedule with deflated aspirations for contending for the south division title, as many analysts expect them to do.

ASU just announced yesterday that they have used up their entire ticket allotment for the game with the Irish and will have a record away-game crowd in attendance at Cowboys Stadium at Arlington, TX.

Meanwhile, down in Tucson… the University of Arizona Wildcats will be playing what is arguably one of the softest non-conference schedules in Division I.

The Cats start the season with three non-conference games against Northern Arizona University, UNLV, and Texas-San Antonio.  It’s not a schedule set up by second-year head coach, Rich Rodriguez, but is left over from his predecessor, Mike Stoops.  So RichRod has to live with it – but probably won’t complain too much about having a good chance of starting the season 3-0.

NAU is the opener and the Lumberjacks are coming off an 8-3 season, but were passed over for a spot in the playoffs at season’s end.  They have been picked by both coaches and media polls to finish in fifth place in the Big Sky Conference in 2013.  Texas-San Antonio also won eight games last year, thanks to a five-game winning streak to close out the season, but have been picked in the pre-season polls to finish seventh in the West Division of Conference USA. Both NAU and Texas-SA are FBS teams.

UNLV, which plays in the Mountain West Conference, is the only BCS team on the non-conference portion of the schedule.  But the Rebels won just two games last year and are picked to finish fifth out of six teams in the conference’s West Division in 2013.

The Cats start conference play after the three ‘warm-up’ games and will face Washington, a team picked by the media in the pre-season to finish among the top three in the north division, in the Sept. 28 conference opener. The Huskies will have already played Boise State, Illinois, and Idaho State.

The obvious question: Who’s going to be better prepared for that conference opener?

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)