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2006 Arizona Football Outlook - Overview
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 04/07/2006
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Three men inside Arizona football have made some of the most serious progress the program has seen in its two-year effort at closing the gap in the Pacific-10 Conference and taking the Wildcats to high levels of play -- head coach Mike Stoops, offensive coordinator Mike Canales and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.

Mike Stoops

Mark Stoops

Mike Canales

Not that they weren't connected with high-level play, nor languishing at dead ends three years ago. Mike Stoops was coordinating a nation-best defense at national champion Oklahoma. Canales, an experienced coordinator, was coaching New York Jets receivers. Mark Stoops was leading Miami Hurricane defensive backs to nation-leading passing defenses.

None of them knew the Pac-10 up close and personal.

After two years, they now do. Stoops' growth as a head coach, and the program's commensurate change, has been remarkable. Canales and the younger Stoops now have not only the appropriate charts and films, but the insiders' knowledge of what to expect in league play -- a schedule that has included national champions and Top 20 clubs.

Stoops opened his first months on the job with an expectation to win, based on his successes at Oklahoma and Kansas State, then gained more humility during his first season. The first year the Cats were competitive. Last year, more so. Now that players are doing the right things the Stoops way, growth and improvement is exponential.

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The 'Stoops way' is a function of off-the-field citizenship and scholarship, in-the-weightroom accountability and on-the-practice-field focus on business. For the first time in his tenure, to a man, the roster is peopled by those who believe. This chemistry gives Arizona a dose of impetus like no other factor.

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The 2006 Cats are a bowl team. The players believe it. The coaching staff believes it. No one else's opinion really matters. It's a swell mindset for a program that hasn't seen a December practice since eventual All-Pro cornerback Chris McAlister covered one side of the field all by himself in 1998. It's not as if it's a do-or-die proposition; it's the next logical step for a vastly improved program. Some in the media have tired of invoking the numerous UA losses by touchdowns or less, but a centralized understanding of how that came about has been gained by the squad, and it's ready to move on.

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The Willie factor cannot be underemphasized. That's Willie Tuitama, sophomore quarterback. His emergence late in 2005 caused the team to coalesce on all fronts like no other influence. The unassumable, modest player has immodest skills and talent, and a leadship value to Arizona football that belies his early career status. Although a program replete with many national and all-league defensive heroes since joining the Pac-10 in 1978, Arizona has not had a first-team all-conference quarterback. It believes it has one sometime in the next three years.

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What sticks in Stoops' craw? Failure to live up to self-image, is one: "The way the kids play says a lot about who we are. To me, we played the worst game in Arizona football history against Washington (last year), the week after we played our best game (UCLA). I don't ever want to take anything away from Washington -- they physically beat us up and down the field -- but that's something that still lingers with me. That game probably bothers me more than any game since we've been here. I don't like the way we presented ourselves on the field. That is not who we are. That's the only time I can really say we did not present ourselves the way we're capable of doing." 

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Arizona returns eight starters on offense and nine on defense. It's to be a team with experience. It's a team with a returning secondary with 16 career interceptions, 11 by junior cornerbacks. The offensive line will be solid and deep. Receivers and tight ends will be plentfiul for a quarterback with all the throws. Linebackers, all guys with at least another year to go after 2006, could become the hallmark of the defense. The kicker has a leg and ice-water composure. The coaching staff is as good as you'll find.

Consider the 'Cats for real in 2006 and beyond 

 

 

 

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