Some of the biggest wins in Arizona football history have come on Mike Stoops’ watch. However, because his team has so often failed to build on those historic successes, some of the program’s most painful losses have also come during his tenure.
It’s no wonder then that the focus for the Wildcats in Stoops’ fourth season on campus is consistency.
“That is a big key of ours,” said senior defensive back Antoine Cason, who passed up likely first-round money to return to campus and help lead the Wildcats to their first bowl game since 1998.
They’ve had opportunities to break that drought under Stoops, but twice in the last two seasons the Wildcats have upset top 10 opponents and failed to follow through.
In 2005, they rolled undefeated UCLA 52-14 before closing out the season with consecutive losses to Washington and Arizona State. Last year, the Wildcats upset once-beaten California 24-20 to keep their bowl hopes alive before seeing them dashed by ASU in the season finale.
“We didn’t finish the way we would have liked,” Stoops said. “There were some inconsistencies that really kept us from getting over the hump and that was evident in the loss to Arizona State. That was a difficult loss and it cost us a lot.”
Arizona’s strength will be a defense led by Cason and fellow senior Spencer Larsen, a linebacker and graduate of Gilbert Highland.
However, the key to the season – and to overcoming the program’s inconsistency – could be the return to health of quarterback Willie Tuitama, who plummeted back to earth after a promising freshman season due in large part to a series of head injuries.
He’ll work for the first time this season in a wide-open spread offense borrowed from Texas Tech, and he won’t be eased into the system.
“We’re going to implement the whole thing,” Stoops said. “The biggest obstacle we’ll have to overcome is utilizing the personnel we have on this team. It’ll be different from Texas Tech.”
Prognosticators have struggled to determine where to place the Wildcats in their preseason rankings. They were tabbed seventh in the Pac-10’s preseason media poll, but some have ranked them as high as third in the conference.
They’re probably asking the same question that Arizona fans and even Stoops have been wondering themselves.
“When you look at the fluctuation in the way we play, what are you going to get?” Stoops said. “We’ve shown we can beat top five teams, and against teams that haven’t won games in this conference we haven’t played very well.
“That’s something we have to overcome.”
84 Terrell Turner (6-2, 190, So.)
11 Terrell Reese (6-4, 205, Fr.)
88 A.J. Simmons (6-3, 250, Fr.)
86 Travis Bell (6-6, 240, Jr.)
9 Anthony Johnson (6-2, 210, Sr.)
18 Delashaun Dean (6-4, 198, Fr.)
76 Peter Graniello (6-5, 310, Sr.)
78 Adam Grant (6-6, 308, So.)
68 Daniel Borg (6-5, 295, So.)
55 Conan Amituanai (6-4, 310, Fr.)
50 Blake Kerley (6-2, 285, So.)
64 Colin Baxter (6-4, 295, Fr.)
75 Joe Longacre (6-3, 315, Jr.)
57 Jovon Hayes (6-2, 300, Fr.)
77 Eben Britton (6-6, 310, So.)
52 Bill Wacholz (6-6, 310, Jr.)
10 Mike Thomas (5-8, 195, Jr.)
89 Derick Barkum (6-3, 210, Jr.)
7 Willie Tuitama (6-3, 220, Jr.)
13 Kris Heavner (6-2, 218, Sr.)
28 Chris Jennings (5-10, 218, Jr.)
30 Xavier Smith (5-11, 210, So.)
13 Jason Bondzio (5-9, 165, Jr.)
14 Alex Zendejas (5-11, 175, Fr.)
1 Louis Holmes (6-6, 265, Sr.)
83 D’Aundre Reed (6-4, 225, Fr.)
96 Yaniv Barnett (6-1, 315, Sr.)
94 Lolomana Mikaele (6-2, 285, Fr.)
54 Lionel Dotson (6-4, 286, Sr.)
46 Donald Horton (6-0, 275, So.)
97 Johnathan Turner (6-3, 262, Jr.)
53 Jason Parker (6-3, 265, Sr.)
39 Dane Krogstad (6-2, 240, Sr.)
41 James Alford (6-1, 230, Jr.)
33 Ronnie Palmer (6-3, 245, Jr.)
25 Adrian McCovy (6-2, 223, Jr.)
51 Spencer Larsen (6-1, 240, Sr.)
15 Xavier Kelley (5-11, 215, So.)
3 Wilrey Fontenot (5-9, 174, Sr.)
6 Devin Ross (5-11, 170, So.)
20 Cam Nelson (6-1, 200, So.)
34 Brandon Tatum (6-1, 210, So.)
8 Dominic Patrick (6-1, 210, Sr.)
21 Corey Hall (5-10, 190, So.)
6 Antoine Cason (6-0, 185, Sr.)
14 Marquis Hundley (5-11, 175, Jr.)
47 Keenyn Crier (6-1, 200, Fr.)
37 Tim Egger (6-1, 220, Fr.)
Saturday at BYU 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 8 NAU 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 New Mexico 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 at California TBA
Sept. 29 Wash. St. 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 at Oregon St. TBA
Oct. 13 at USC TBA
Oct. 20 Stanford 4 p.m.
Oct. 27 at Washington TBA
Nov. 3 UCLA 12:30 p.m.
Nov. 15 Oregon 7 p.m.
Dec. 1 at Arizona St. 6 p.m.
Saturday at Brigham Young: A win in Provo, a place where many seasons have been derailed, will be a big confidence booster for the Wildcats.
Sept. 29, vs. Washington State: This game comes on the heels of the Pac-10 opener at Cal, so in order to make a move to the upper half of the Pac-10, the Wildcats need to win at home against the Cougars. A loss here could set off a four game losing streak.
Oct. 27, at Washington: There aren’t any easy Pac-10 road games on the ’Cats schedule, but this one is the easiest. If things are going well, this game could make Arizona bowl-eligible with three games left.
Dec. 1 at Arizona State: If the Wildcats’ bowl dreams are shattered already, beating the Sun Devils is the next best thing to going to El Paso.
DID YOU KNOW?
Dick Tomey had a .595 winning percentage at UA until he resigned after the 2000 season. Since then, the Wildcats have a .333 winning percentage. Arizona has not gone to a bowl game since the 1998 Holiday Bowl.
Sonny Dykes, who served as offensive coordinator at high-powered Texas Tech, was brought in to revive the offense at a school that has averaged 19 points or less in four of the last five seasons.
Phoenix Brophy Prep product B.J. Dennard, a wide receiver who is expected to have a breakout year for the Wildcats, had to raise some eyebrows in his family with his college choice. His father, Glen Dennard, earned two letters as a receiver at Arizona State in 1984-85, and his cousin, Ryan Dennard, lettered three years as a receiver at ASU from 1999-01.