We go to the desert for my number six team in the PAC-10, the University of Arizona Wildcats. It turns out the media and I have a lot in common, as the PAC-10 media took the Wildcats to finish sixth in the PAC as well. We may both be way wrong.
Mike Stoops is in his third year with Arizona. Stoops was an integral part of the recent Oklahoma resurgence, as one of their offensive coordinators since 1999. Arizona brought him on board thinking that they would see immediate dividends, and it hasn’t really happened yet, although the team had high hopes for this season.
Arizona needs a win this Saturday in order to avoid starting conference play 0-3. The Wildcats lost to USC, mustering only a field goal, and were blasted by three quick second-quarter Washington Husky touchdowns in a 21-10 loss. I still think this club can be a decent one, with sophomore QB Willie Tuitama a dropback passer who can move a little bit in the pocket. But for now, they are having all kinds of issues on offense, and their solid defense just can’t do it all.
One of the big surprises of NFL training camp was RB Mike Bell, who nearly won the starting job with the Broncos. Arizona fans knew all about Bell from his time toting the rock in college, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to them, but the loss of Bell has been a big one for the Wildcats. Even with junior RB Chris Jennings averaging 5.8 ypc this season, the loss of Bell is still a big one, a little bigger than I realized.
Stoops has done a very good job of recruiting at Arizona, though. He’s brought in newcomers like Tuitama and sophomore WR Mike Thomas, and expanded the role of experienced offensive players like all-purpose WR Syndric Steptoe. In doing so, Stoops has stocked the cupboard for the future. But it’s not an overnight thing to improve your offense, especially when you are known as a defensive-minded coach.
Speaking of defense, Stoops has some improved players on the other side of the ball. Unlike last season, when safety Darrell Brooks led the team in tackles with 48 after five games, this year two linebackers are atop the heap in the tackles race. For the Wildcats, even though the won-lost record isn’t spectacular, that’s a good sign that their defense isn’t surrendering the big play.
The special teams aren’t bad either, with K/P Nick Folk handling the punting and kicking. Folk, who was recruited as a kicker, has turned out to be a better punter, averaging over 45 yards per kick this season. I’m not that confident in him in a close game, as he’s just 8 of 12 between 30 and 39 yards in his career, but he’s a solid, experienced kicker who is better than most.
In short, while this might not be the season for the Wildcats, Mike Stoops is improving the program, and will have it back in prominence within two seasons.
Lenny Del Genio is a documented member of the Professional Handicappers League. Read all of his articles at http://www.procappers.com/Lenny_Del_Genio.htm