Arizona coach Mike Stoops ushered in the new UA football program -- again -- in Pac-10 Football Media Day activities in Los Angeles today, and largely paid little attention to the media poll that pegged his program to finish last in the league in 2004.
Stoops, hired last fall to replace John Mackovic as the university's 28th head coach, was upbeat and forthright in claiming that prognogsticaters from outside the program might not have the right idea about how the Wildcats will fare this year.
Each of the steps since his hiring -- an announcement news conference, a first meeting with the media, initial meetings with UA supporters, a news conference on his first national signing day during recruiting, meetings before the first action in spring ball, a post-spring news conference, etc. -- each have heralded the change in Arizona football. It's closer than ever now, with the league media day gathering and team reporting day a short week away.
"I don't know where we're picked," he told reporters assembled for the annual event, but "Expectations here (and elsewhere) aren't high. As a staff and and as a team, they are a lot higher. I'm optimistic about our opportunities.
"We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, and I'm proud of what we've accomplished so far," he said.
In the eight months since he took command, Stoops said the team has made dramatic improvement in physical conditioning, work habits and attitude, three major factors he cited for spearheading the turnaround he expects for Arizona football.
"It's an exciting time for me and our program. The football team is very excited" about the opening of fall camp a week hence, on Aug. 8.
Privately, many players, including UA's star running back Mike Bell, who was on hand with Stoops for the Los Angeles event, say they're looking forward to getting into a regular-season regimen -- or at least fall training camp -- with the coaching staff. They'd like to put the hard work of the past eight months behind them and get on with football, he hinted. Bell, said later that the close of off-season workouts this week will give the players a chance to work on coming together and focusing on football strategy more than working on getting into top condition. "We're ready for football," he said.
"We've stressed a work ethic that will allow us to have success," Stoops said in Los Angeles. "I think our team will be able to play with more velocity in fall camp after spending spring learning our systems."
"Coach came in with a lot of expectations, and he's just making our team so much better," Bell told reporters. "Just him being around our team is making us better. The communication is clear and straightforward as to what we have to do to be able to play," he said.
The Cats report to camp in Tucson on Sunday, Aug. 8, and begin drills the following day. UA opens the season Sept. 4 at home in Arizona Stadium against Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks, an NCAA Divison I-A playoff team, are the first of nine opponents who appeared in postseason action last year that the Wildcats will play this year.
Pacific-10 Conference 2004 Football Media Poll
USC is the unanimous choice to win the 2004 Pacific-10 Conference football title in a pre-season poll of West Coast media members who regularly cover the league. The Trojans garnered all 24 first-place votes, marking the first time in the Pac-10 era since 1978 that one team received every first-place vote. USC is the defending Pac-10 champion, as well as defending Associated Press national champion, after fashioning a 12-1 record last year, capped by a Rose Bowl win against Michigan. CALIFORNIA was picked to finish second by the pollsters. Since 1978, the Golden Bears have never been picked higher than fourth in the pre-season poll. The media poll has correctly selected the Conference Champion in 21 of 43 previous polls, including the last four years in a row. Following are the results of the pre-season media poll (points 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, first-place votes in parentheses):
POLL NOTES: Pre-season media poll has correctly picked the Conference champion 21 of 43 times and has been very accurate of late in correctly identifying the Conference champ the last four years in a row and five of the last six. . . . Since the Pac-10 era began in 1978, no team had ever before received every first-place vote until USC turned the trick this year. The closest was 1992 when Washington, like USC coming off a national championship the previous season, received 30 of 31 first-place votes. The Huskies came through by making a return trip to the Rose Bowl following the 1992 season. . . . It is the highest predicted finish for CALIFORNIA in the Pac-10 era since 1978. The previous high water mark for the Bears was being picked to finish fourth. . . . Of all the teams, the pollsters seemed to have the most difficulty predicting how ARIZONA STATE will fare this season. The Sun Devils were picked to finish as high as third and as low as ninth. . . . Hope for ARIZONA. In two of the last three years, the team predicted to finish last in the Conference has posted a winning record. . . . And remember, it's the Pac-10, where six different teams have claimed the championship the last six years.