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There’s no more debate about whether Noah Fifita should be the Arizona Wildcats’ starting quarterback. The question becomes, “Is he The One?”
Arizona’s progress under third-year coach Jedd Fisch has received a Fifita-fueled injection over the past month, a stretch of four games – all against ranked teams – that includes back-to-back victories over Top 25 teams for the first time since 2014.
All things seem possible, right?
The redshirt freshman might look wispy – 5-foot-11 in some thick shoes, probably — but he’s made with tough stuff. His football mind is powered by Intel Core i7-14700K. In the middle of the most pressure-packed fourth-quarter gotta-have-it moments, his heart rate appears to be the same as what it would be if he were on vacation, about to snooze in a hammock, swinging in a gentle breeze by the beach.
“It’s definitely been a blessing,” Fifita said late Saturday night after the Wildcats dispatched No. 11 Oregon State 27-24, giving Arizona wins over ranked teams in consecutive games for the first time since 2014.
“I don’t take that lightly, being able to be in this role, a leadership role, and to just have people trust me the last few weeks has been great. I think the trust part is probably the best part about it.
“Play-calling hasn’t changed. Confidence and belief in my teammates hasn’t wavered, and that’s what you go for. The wins are great, but being able to win the locker room and being able to have a relationship with those guys, that’s the best part.”
Is he The One?
That definition at Arizona has changed over the years, and will again, but the point still stands.
The Wildcats, since joining the Pac-10, never found the quarterback to lead them to the Rose Bowl, never recruited and developed a quarterback who would earn first-team all-conference honors. Only once – Nick Foles – did it have a QB who went on to play in the NFL.
Now, the narrative will switch to: Will the Wildcats have a quarterback to lead them to the Big 12 title and a spot in the 12-team college football playoff?
Is he The One?
I’ve asked this question before about young Arizona quarterbacks. We’ve been teased, tantalized. And that’s just in the past 20 years.
Willie Tuitama helped Arizona rock No. 7 UCLA 52-14 in his second career start in 2005. Fans chanted “Will-ee! Will-ee!” as they carried him off the field. But he battled injuries, and the team’s high note in his tenure was the Las Vegas Bowl.
Nick Foles became a starter early as a redshirt sophomore transfer in 2009. He was closest to being The One, but the Rose Bowl eluded his grasp, too.
Anu Solomon was the next potential “One.” As a redshirt freshman in 2014, he passed for 3,793 yards as Arizona won the Pac-12 South and advanced to a major bowl game, losing in the Fiesta Bowl to Boise State. Alas. That season was the peak of Solomon’s college career.
Then came the best month of quarterback play we’ve seen at Arizona – Khalil Tate in October 2017. Things were never the same after that, including the head coach after the 2017 season.
Fifita vs. other “Ones”
Let’s look at Fifita’s first four starts since replacing an injured Jayden de Laura, compared to those QBs above.* It’s not all apples-to-apples, but Fifita sure has had the highest degree of difficulty, facing only ranked teams so far.
- Fifita: 111 of 149 (74.5%) for 1,152 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs
- Tate: 41 of 58 (70.7%) for 743 yards, 6 TDs, 2 INTs (840 rushing yards)
- Foles: 126 of 172 (73.3%) for 1,300 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs
- Solomon: 111 of 175 (63.4%) for 1,454 yards, 13 TDs, 3 INTs
- Tuitama: 64 of 108 (59.3%) for 923 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs.
*Tate actually started a game in 2016, but we’re using his four-game October 2017 stretch that included coming in after the first drive for injured Brandon Dawkins against Colorado.
Fifita is now 18th nationally and fourth in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency (160.4 rating), trailing a pair of potential 2023 Heisman winners – Oregon’s Bo Nix (178.6) and Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. (175.5) – and the 2022 Heisman winner, USC’s Caleb Williams (175.4).
With Arizona at 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12, there are still some significant prizes available this season, including a potential victory over another ranked team (UCLA) this Saturday night.
The win over Oregon State represented the best “team” win of the season – offense, defense, special teams – but you gotta have the quarterback. And the Cats have the quarterback.
“There’s no flinch in Noah,” Fisch said.
“I thought Noah had a great game tonight. … He did a fantastic job running the team. And in a situation where the game was going back and forth, he showed great poise and composure and everything we always expect out of him.”
We’ve written before that: “Optimism is an unfamiliar and sometimes uneasy feeling for Arizona Wildcats football fans.” Are you ready to go all-in on optimism with Fifita’s future?
While you ponder that, let’s just leave you with this from Saturday night from mad-man linebacker Justin Flowe:
START THE SONG, FLOWE!
Top photo: Arizona quarterback Noah Fifita drops back against Oregon State. (Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports)
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