Dec. 11, 2009
The Arizona football team will return to the practice field on Friday evening for the first time since securing a tie for second place in the Pac-10 and a berth in the Holiday Bowl with last Saturdays 21-17 victory over No. 20 USC.
Wildcat players have spent the week finishing up fall semester classes and preparing for final exams, which officially began today.
Of course, the week has not been completely free of football-related activities as players have continued to work out with strength and condition coaches, including director of performance enhancement Corey Edmond, who is a finalist for 2009 Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year by footballscoop.com, a national Web site for football coaches and allied support staff.
Meanwhile, coaches have spent the week in and out of town recruiting and also scouting UA's Holiday Bowl opponent Nebraska. On Friday, head coach Mike Stoops met with the local media and gave a preview of the upcoming schedule for the Wildcats as they prepare for the Dec. 30 showdown in San Diego.
"I thought we had five good days off to get our guys rested," Stoops said in the news conference. "We're looking forward to getting back out there this weekend."
Arizona will practice Friday, Saturday and Sunday before taking off the first three days on next week to focus on final exams. The team will get back to work on the practice field next Thursday evening and continue through the weekend.
Practices this weekend will focus on fundamentals and scrimmage action will be geared toward younger players in the program while coaches begin working on game plans for Nebraska. Next week, the team will begin implementing the game plan and work on game-specific preparations for the Cornhuskers.
"Nebraska is a very physical football," Stoops said. "We'll need to do a lot between now and the game to get some of our strength back and to prepare for a very physical football game."
The Wildcats finished the regular season with an 8-4 record, their best finish since the 1998 Holiday Bowl season. The work was not easy, however, as Arizona had to overcome injuries, illness and a tough schedule that included a road trip to Big Ten runner-up Iowa and five Pac-10 road games.
The NCAA rated UA's strength of schedule as the 16th-toughest in the nation based on cumulative opposition, trailing only Oregon (No. 14) in the Pac-10. The Wildcats' opponents accumulated an 80-52 record on the season.
The Pac-10 is the only league in the nation to play nine conference games, and this season six of those opponents for UA became bowl-eligible, with five posting eight-win seasons overall. In all, the Wildcats faced eight bowl-eligible teams and seven teams that reached at least eight wins during the regular season.
The road is not any easier to wrap up the year as the Wildcats take on a Cornhusker squad that was just one second away from winning the Big XII Championship last weekend against national title contender Texas. Familiar with narrow finishes themselves, the Wildcats were perhaps just a few plays away from a conference title of their own.
Instead, the two programs will battle in a rematch of the 1998 Holiday Bowl that drew the highest ratings of any game in the bowl's history. This year's meeting is sure to draw similar ratings and the game is expected to be sold out. Each school sold out its allotment of 11,000 tickets within 48 hours of the matchup being announced.
Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Dec. 30 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.