TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 24: Fireworks explode as the Arizona Wildcats run out onto the field before the college football game against the Oregon Ducks at Arizona Stadium on September 24, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. The Ducks defeated the Wildcats 56-31. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Arizona may have lost on Saturday, but an underlying theme from the game should have fans excited for the future.
Sure, the 'Cats essentially guaranteed themselves a bowl game would not be reached for a fourth consecutive season, but the team competed and played their asses off against a superior opponent.
Saturday night's loss foreshadowed the future of this program. Arizona battled in a hostile road environment with a roster consisting primarily of young and improving players and nearly came away with a victory.
Assuming UA can make a solid hire for their next head coach, this team has potential to be very good under their next leader. And if that was not apparent before, it should be after the Washington game.
The loss of Nick Foles will be felt immediately, but the Wildcats have two solid options right off the bat in senior Matt Scott and Rutgers transfer Tom Savage, who will only be a junior in 2012. That gives UA immediate stability at the most important position on the field for the foreseeable future.
Keola Antolin will be gone as well, but as this season has worn on, Wildcat fans have seen more and more of why KaDeem Carey was regarded as one of the best prospects to ever commit to the program. He will have three seasons of eligibility under the new head coach and will be joined by Daniel Jenkins and Greg Nwoko for years to come.
Star wide receiver Juron Criner will graduate once this season is over, but the wide receiving core is still deep in talent and experience. Dan Buckner will undoubtably be the leader next year and underclassmen such as Richard Morrison, Austin Hill and others all have promising futures ahead of them.
For better or for worse, the offensive line will return next season as well. The unit has struggled throughout the year, but strides are being made on a weekly basis and the potential for a veteran-led line is already in place for the future.
Cornerback Trevin Wade will leave the program after the season, but one has to be encouraged by the amount of young talent assembled in the UA secondary. Jonathan McKnight will be healthy next year, as will Adam Hall. And despite their inconsistencies this year, both Shaquille Richardson and Marquis Flowers will return as juniors in 2012.
Combine the potential of these four projected starters along with others who have filled in at times this year and the secondary could be a huge strength for the Wildcats going forward.
So what does all of this mean?
This is not a rebuilding job for the next head coach of Arizona football. A ton of talent is already assembled on this roster and most of it will be returning for 2012 and beyond. This was the underlying theme of the loss to Washington on Saturday night and it has to make fans excited for what the future holds.
There will be a few hiccups along the way, but assuming the right coach is hired for the job, it appears the Wildcats will be relevant once again in the near future.