The similarities between the paths that the University of Arizona and Arizona State football programs have traveled the past five years is almost eerie.
And Saturday’s losses by both teams only served to reinforce the uncanny coincidences.
Consider, if you will, the following:
The head coaches for both programs, Todd Graham at ASU and Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, were each hired five years ago. This season is the sixth for both.
Each had success early on, with Graham starting his tenure with eight wins, the first winning regular-season record in five years. He followed that with back-to-back 10-win seasons and Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors in 2013. Rodriguez also started with an 8-5 season, followed by the same record in 2013, and then 10 wins his third year.
At that point, both were looking like shrewd hires.
But the slippage hit both coaches at the same time, with Graham posting two straight losing seasons and Rodriguez barely squeezing in above .500 with a 7-6 record in 2015 and then falling completely off the edge of the table last season with a 3-9 finish.
And when the projections for the 2017 season came out, ASU was picked in the preseason media poll to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South, and Arizona right behind in sixth.
They both got off to a good start this season by winning their first games, although neither was very impressive in putting up wins against inferior opponents.
Now, both have lost their second games in a critical season that could determine who might be looking for a new job next season.
The glaring similarities over the five-year span are, in many ways, haunting.
Both teams got in an early hole Saturday and had to play catch-up the rest of the way. Both teams failed to get it done.
San Diego State took a 7-0 lead on the Sun Devils in the first quarter of their game at Sun Devil Stadium, and ASU evened the score with a touchdown from senior running back Kalen Ballage, who has now scored at least once in six of the last seven games. But the Aztecs pulled ahead again on a 99-yard kick-off return by Rashaad Penny to open the second quarter, and ASU was never able to close the gap again, falling 30-20.
ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins threw for 298 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Devils dominated in the passing game, while SDSU put up just 73 yards in the air. But the stats were flipped in the running game, as the Aztecs romped in that aspect of the game, 279 to 44.
In the Wildcats’ game with Houston in Tucson, the evenly-matched teams played to a 3-3 tie at the end of the first quarter, but Houston pulled away to go into the locker room at halftime with a 14-7 lead. Again, just as it happened in the ASU game, it was an 81-yard kick-off return that put the visitors out front for good, on the way to a 19-16 win.
Arizona’s only touchdown of the game came in the second quarter on a one-yard plunge by redshirt senior running back, Zack Green, late in the second quarter. The rest of the Wildcat scoring came from redshirt junior, Josh Pollack, who kicked three field goals.
Either team can still put up 10 wins and retain some respect, as well as job security for its coach.
But, from what we’ve seen so far, there’s not a fan in Tempe or Tucson who would be willing to bet his lunch money on that happening.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)