I know just two BC alums in Arizona. As it happens, they both are fellow 1998 grads and both are diehard BC fans. Dave Dlott is one of my former roommates. Born and raised in New England, Dave moved to Phoenix 10 years ago. Jim Gruber is a Arizona native and was an editor at the Heights while I was at WZBC. I asked them the following questions to get a better understanding of the Wildcats, their fans and what to expect in the Independence Bowl.
1. With the understanding that not all fans fall into their respective stereotype, what is the typical Arizona Wildcat fan? Is it someone who follows football just until basketball starts? If ASU is the party school, is Arizona the more serious? Do they have the bigger following in state?
Dave Dlott: I asked one of my co-workers who went to U of A what he thought of U of A's matchup against BC. He didn't even know U of A made a bowl game. He said that he stopped paying attention to football once basketball season started. I think that sums up a typical Arizona Wildcat fan.
ASU may have the reputation as a party school, but U of A can party with the best of them. I have been on campus for U of A hoops and football games and they know how to have a good time.
I don't know which school has the bigger following. What I do know is that they can't stand each other. I didn't realize how big the U of A/ASU rivalry was until I got out here.
Jim Gruber: (I will try to answer this objectively and not from the perspective of a fan of my second-favorite college team, the Arizona State Sun Devils.) Sports are a big deal at the University of Arizona. While basketball is clearly the dominant sport at UA, I believe that’s a function of the reality that the Wildcats have in the last 30 years generally been great at hoops and mediocre in football. After 35 seasons in the Pac-10/12, UA still has never played in the Rose Bowl.
I believe that most sports fans in Arizona are football fans first and everything else comes in a distant second (for instance, the excitement surrounding the Suns’ recent playoff runs was dwarfed by the Cardinals 2009 Super Bowl trip). UA fans are no different. If the UA football team ever started winning at a clip similar to the basketball team, I think all the fan attention would move in that direction. As it stands now, your typical UA fan is knowledgeable about sports and savvy enough to quickly shift the conversation from football to basketball, at least when that person is having a discussion with an ASU fan.
As for the reputation of the two schools, ASU still has the rap of being the bigger party school, although the school’s president has really tried hard to change that over the past decade. UA has the higher US News ranking, for what that’s worth, but my understanding has always been that ASU was superior in certain disciplines such as engineering. ASU has the bigger following statewide and has a natural advantage due to its massive size (roughly 70,000 undergrads), although UA is by far the favorite team in Tucson and most of southern Arizona. As far as partying goes, ASU is probably bigger, but the kinds of things that take place at either of these two schools would make a Saturday night in the mods look like my two-year old daughter’s tea parties.
2. What is the perception of BC in Arizona? For example, when I first moved to Georgia I still dealt with the occasional person who didn't realize that BC and BU were totally different schools. With the move to the ACC and Matt Ryan firmly in place with the Falcons, that doesn't happen as much any more. Is there general awareness and respect for BC among Arizona fans?
Jim Gruber: Academically, I’d say the perception of Boston College in Arizona is a good one, and perhaps even better than the reputation BC enjoys in New England. People generally seem to see BC as a good school located in a part of the country known for good schools. Athletically, BC’s brand is still largely limited to Doug Flutie and perhaps Matt Ryan and now Andre Williams.
A couple years ago a co-worker who is a pretty big sports fan mentioned that he thought BC was in the Big East, and I remember another co-worker and huge sports fan who thought JOB was the BC hoops coach (during Year 8 of the Al Skinner era). Having Jared Dudley in town as a Phoenix Sun for a few years probably raised the profile of BC’s teams a little, and this bowl game will probably help somewhat too.
Dave Dlott: I don't think there is much respect for BC here in Arizona. Hopefully, that will change after the bowl game.
3. Most BC fans remember Rich Rodriquez teams from West Virginia. How is this team different from those? Do you think they will be able to stop Andre Williams? Are they excited enough about this game to fight through the potential cold and BC's bruising style?
Dave Dlott: This team is similar to Rich Rod's West Virginia teams. They run a spread offense, and they can put a lot of points on the board. They lit up Oregon a few weeks ago. They have an outstanding running back in Ka'deem Carey.
I don't think they will be able to stop Andre Williams, but I think they will slow him down, and they will force Rettig to air it out. BC will have to be able throw the ball to win.
Jim Gruber: My take is that RichRod’s spread in his second year at UA isn’t nearly as efficient as he’d like, and doesn’t yet compare to his great years at WVU with White and Slaton. Denker’s done a decent job at QB in his only season as the starter, but this offense functions better with a guy like White or even last year’s UA QB, Matt Scott, at the helm. The Wildcats have a couple highly-recruited QBs ready to take over next year, plus they get a lot of injured wideouts back.
As for controlling Andre Williams, the UA defense is an unusual 3-3-5 system that wasn’t great at stopping the run in 2013 and doesn’t match up well against a power run game like BC’s. They also have yet to play a team that uses the multiple tight ends and unbalanced lines that BC will throw at them on the ground (Stanford wasn’t on this year’s UA schedule). In short, I don’t think they will stop Williams. However, I expect their offense to have a lot of success moving the ball against the BC defense. I also think they’ll be up for the game and motivated to show that Ka’Deem Carey is better than Williams despite the Doak Walker and Heisman consideration that Williams received over Carey. For BC to win this game, we’ll need to keep the UA offense off the field with some long, sustained drives.
4. Who wins?
Dave Dlott: My wife and her siblings are U of A grads. I have a lot of friendly wagers with them on the game, so BC better win.
U of A 24
Jim Gruber: I've gotten more pessimistic as the game gets closer, but I can't pick against BC.