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October 23, 2008

Arizona Stadium becoming feared Pac-10 venue

There are a number of difficult places to play in the Pac-10, and it is about time Arizona Stadium is included as one of the toughest venues to visit in the conference.

At 57,803 seats, Arizona Stadium has only the sixth largest seating capacity in the Pac-10 and its open design allows much of the crowd's noise to escape, however there is no question that Arizona is an entirely different team when it plays in Tucson.

Maybe it's the late game time, or the conference's largest student section lining the eastern sideline, but opponents are finding road wins in Tucson tougher to come by each season.

The facts:

  • Arizona's 2008 home record is 4-0, while playing just 1-2 on the road.

  • Arizona averages 50.3 points per game at home, but only 27.3 as the away team.

  • Arizona has a +6 turnover margin in Tucson, and -1 margin elsewhere.

  • Arizona has beaten a ranked team at home each of the last five seasons, including three wins over top 10 teams.

    And with #5 USC coming to town this weekend, there are special reasons to be excited.

    First there's the homecoming curse.

    It is well known that Arizona has had great success recently during homecoming weekend. In 2005, Arizona was 2-6 going into its homecoming game against undefeated and seventh ranked UCLA. Arizona amassed 519 yards in a 52-14 blowout of the Bruins.

    A year later, Arizona won during homecoming over eighth ranked California, eventually costing Cal the outright Pac-10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. UCLA fell victim to the Wildcats again in last year's homecoming and fans have now completely bought into the curse.

    USC will have to face the spiritual phenomenon, or maybe just recent coincidence, that is homecoming upsets in Arizona.

    But I'm not entirely sold on any football curse, but rather well aware of the fact that Pac-10 teams simply haven't performed on the road in 2008. Pac-10 teams are 8-22 overall on the road. Arizona is one of five teams in the conference that are undefeated at home, while those same five teams have a combined 12 losses on the road.

    It gets especially bad when it comes to road play in conference, where visiting teams in the Pac-10 are just 6-14. What is worse is that five of those wins have been in the state of Washington, against either winless Washington or 1-7 Washington State.

    Arizona's 31-10 win over lowly UCLA is sadly the best road win of any Pac-10 team. USC just won its first conference road game, a 69-0 thumping of Washington State, but we all remember what happened when the top ranked Trojans visited Oregon State.

    With first place on the line this weekend it seemingly will be the most important game of each Arizona player's life, and they couldn't feel more comfortable playing anywhere else.

    "We do very well at home," says cornerback Devin Ross, whose defense is only allowing 14.3 points per game at home. "We have our crowd, our family and everybody is on our side"

    Head coach Mike Stoops credits Arizona's success in Tucson as having more to do with the overall improvement of the team than it does playing in front of its own fans. Still, he wasn't about to deny the advantage of playing at home.

    "Obviously the comfort level of playing at home is big," admitted Stoops. "Keeping the crowd in the game is going to be big for us."

    How does Arizona Stadium rank with the rest of Pac-10?

    "Those fans are pretty crazy out there, especially the student section," continued Ross, "I think it's one of the hardest places in the Pac-10 to play."

    Quarterback Willie Tuitama has a long history playing at Arizona Stadium and he definitely feels there is something special about playing in the comfy confines of his home turf.

    "We have great fan support," Tuitama said. "The whole stadium is red and everyone is getting hyped and getting loud. That's definitely a good feeling, like a 12th man"

    Well sure, any home crowd will give the players a good feeling. But is Arizona Stadium becoming the toughest place to visit in the conference?

    "We're going to find out Saturday."

    Touché Willie, Touché.

    Spencer Smith

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