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Cats Close the Gap in Preseason Poll
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 07/28/2006
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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LOS ANGELES--The University of Arizona football team will open camp next week in Tucson and enters the drills with some increased expectations for success after being tabbed for No. 6 in the preseason Pacific-10 Conference media poll released here this morning.

UA has been rated at the bottom or near there in the past five polls conducted by balloting of broadcasters and beat writers who cover Pac-10 football. The choice near the middle of the pack this year is along lines most observers close to the UA program anticipate -- six league teams will receive automatic bowl bids if they qualify with a .500 winning percentage, and Arizona's camp is geared toward a return to post-season play.

Defending league titlist Southern California was the popular choice for the top spot in the 2006 poll, receiving 62 percent of the first-place votes. USC lost to Texas in the BCS National Championship game last January, halting a two-year streak as national champion in the 2003 AP poll and unanimously after a BCS title victory over Oklahoma in 2004.

Solid recruiting classes in head coach Mike Stoops' two-year tenure, dramatic improvement in strength and conditioning and UA's resounding victory over No. 7 UCLA last November and are a few reasons more is expected of Arizona football this season. UA returns 16 offensive and defensive starters and many of its key players in the kicking game.

Arizona, a 3-8 overall team and 2-6 in league action the past two years, has finished no higher than eighth each of the past five seasons. The Cats were picked to win it all in the 1999 poll on the heels of their best-ever 12-1 season in 1998.

Arizona's Stoops and senior wide receiver Syndric Steptoe are in Los Angeles today for the annual Pac-10 Football Media Day along with the other nine head coaches and top players from each squad.

UA newcomers, all of whom have been in town with veterans in volunteer workouts over the summer, officially report next Tuesday, with returning veterans checking in on Wednesday. The newcomers will conduct an initial practice Wednesday and the full squad will gather for opening drills Thursday. UA's media day will be Saturday, Aug. 5.

The Wildcats open the season at 7 :15 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2, in Tucson against Brigham Young University in a game to be televised nationally by TBS Sports.

The 2006 Pac-10 Media Poll

Place

Team

1st-place votes

Points

1.

USC

18

276

2.

Cal

7

247

3.

Oregon

3

229

4.

ASU

1

204

5.

UCLA

-

145

6.

Arizona

-

133

7.

OSU

-

125

8.

WSU

-

96

9.

Stanford

-

90

10.

UW

-

50

 

NOTES... With a current 12-game schedule the Pac-10 has reinstituted a full round-robin with every team slated to play all nine opponents. This replaces the "Pac-10 miss" situation that has been in place since Arizona and Arizona State joined the league for the 1978 season -- each year a team normally would not play one league opponent (although the regional rivalry games were always on each team's schedule). Arizona (1990) and California (1979, 1984, 1985 and 1986) are the only league teams that previously have played all nine league opponents in a season... Last year five league teams qualified for bowl participation -- USC, Oregon, UCLA, Cal and ASU. There was a three-way tie for fourth place at 4-4 -- Cal, ASU and Stanford (which finished 5-6 overall)...

Quoting Arizona Head Coach Mike Stoops

Pac-10 Football Media Day  - Los Angeles, Calif., Thursday, July 27

"It’s a great time of the year and the next three or four months are the best time of the year. I think football is an unbelievable game at this level, and I feel it's a real privilege to be at Arizona and coach as part of a great conference."

"Last year we went through another one of those stages of playing a lot of people close and just not getting it done. I thought for the most part that we competed well, week in and week out, losing five games by seven or less and beating three quality teams. Even though we (had the losses) I think our team gained great confidence.Before you beat those teams you have to play them close and I think our kids did that."

"There are certain things we need to do a whole lot better and we have worked very hard on becoming a team. You are not going to win until you become a team and learn more accountability about the way we do things. This group has made a tremendous amount of improvement."

"Our defense will be greatly improved, having nine starters back. I feel we have three tremendous linebackers. Our offensive line will be much improved as we have quality players across the board that have some experience. It gives us great hope for this season because this team has been doing a lot of work over the past couple months."

"You have to have a great quarterback. We have a young and upcoming quarterback and Willie Tuitama gives us a chance. He's still young, but Willie's a guy who can handle it. We've never had a quarterback we could build an offense around. Now we have a guy that we can build around. And Adam Austin (behind him) gives us quality depth at the position. He's totally comfortable with everything in our system."

"The schedule is tough, and that's the way it's been since we got here. We've played quality (non-conference) opponents throughout both the first two seasons."

"We've had an opportunity to win a whole bunch of games and our players are beginning to understand, put those lessons behind and move forward."

"Our recruiting really has a chance to bolster this team."

"From top to bottom, I think the Conference has a chance to be the most competitive it has been. There are a lot of teams making improvement and it’s a very complete league and it’s setting up to be one of the best years in a long time. It's very competitive from one to 10 and I don't see anyone conceding anything."

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