As you are aware, it is a point of pride with me that I can find some sliver of intrigue, no matter how small, virtually in any college football game merely by virtue of the fact that it is a college football game.
Each week, however, two teams find a way to come together in a matchup so meaningless, so insignificant, that I simply cannot be bothered to choose up sides between the two. This is the game that we designate as the national game of disinterest.
Robert Penn Warren so completely and effectively ignored the national game of disinterest throughout his literary career that, after his death, the image of the poet laureate displaying his legendary indifference towards that inconsequential contest was emblazoned on a postage stamp, that all Americans might profit by his example.
This week's national game of disinterest is . . .
U.C.L.A. at Arizona
We were fooled in the preseason. At least, I was fooled in the preseason. I believed the Wildcats would make some noise and I had the Bruins in my preseason top ten, buoyed by U.C.L.A. fans' high expectations. (Bruins fans, by the way, have excellent taste in coaches, seeing as how they don't consider Mark Richt a random non-great coach from a conference that sucks.)
A player from the team that won last year's S.E.C. championship does his best to represent his overrated conference.
Arizona ended last season on a run and both the Wildcats and the Bruins boasted a great deal in the way of returning talent, yet this game has become an utter irrelevancy. What happened to Arizona and U.C.L.A.?
Mike Stoops and Karl Dorrell happened, that's what. Arizona ought to be a program on the rise, yet the Wildcats are playing a distinctly distant second fiddle in their home state. U.C.L.A. ought to be one of the top programs in what clearly is one of the country's two best leagues, yet the Bruins are playing a distinctly distant second fiddle in their hometown, despite the fact that Southern California has taken a step back to the pack.
Superficially, the suffering of Bruins fans may be grandly entertaining, but, on a much more significant level, the inability of what is, both currently and historically, one of the country's premiere athletics programs to live up to its present potential and its longstanding heritage on the gridiron is harmful to the sport.
Regardless of how a particular partisan may feel about a specific team, college football is better when both Michigan and Notre Dame are good, when both Oklahoma and Texas are good, when both Alabama and Auburn are good, when both Florida State and Miami are good, and---as we were reminded last Saturday---when both Georgia and Florida are good. Likewise, the game is better when the Battle of Los Angeles is a clash of titans rather than a one-sided affair in which the Trojans take seven out of eight series meetings from their crosstown rivals.
27-0? 52-21? 47-22? 66-19? Dude!
The Wildcats are a different animal altogether. Arizona is the only Pac-10 program never to have captured a Rose Bowl berth and, every time the team from Tucson looks like it might be getting close, the bottom falls out from beneath the 'Cats. Larry Smith coached 'Zona to a 9-3 record and the school's first bowl victory in 1986 . . . then he promptly bolted for U.S.C., stealing away in the dead of night without letting the players know he was leaving.
A ten-win season in 1993, capped off by a 29-0 thrashing of the Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl, led Sports Illustrated to rank the Wildcats No. 1 the following year, yet Arizona barely survived its opener against a Georgia Tech team that would finish the autumn with a 1-10 record and the Pac-10 also-ran limped to an 8-4 finish. The Wildcats went 12-1 in 1998, finishing the season ranked fourth, but Arizona has not been to a bowl game, or even finished with a winning record, in any season since.
The 'Cats ought to be able to show at least some signs of progress, but there is no indication that Arizona will ever become a consistent winner. Under Karl Dorrell, the Bruins show no signs of ever becoming consistent, period. In the clash of the inexplicably bad with the maddeningly erratic, there is no victor . . . or, at least, there is not one I can bring myself to care enough about to pick over the other.