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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

The time is now

There hasn’t been a single official snap in 2010, but it’s already been one of the strangest seasons in Pacific 10 Conference history.

My roommate, a Texas native, was all set to make travel plans to see Arizona play at the University of Texas in 2012, only to find out that he’ll have to fly to Utah for some fresh Pac-10 action.

The Downtown Athletic Club started to engrave Jeremiah Masoli’s name into the 2010 Heisman Trophy, but it turns out the only thing being engraved for Masoli is his signature on an unemployment check.

Lane Kiffin was thinking of dropping an atomic bomb on his bridge to Tennessee and flee to USC, but — never mind — that actually happened. I’m sure he didn’t expect to arrive in Los Angeles and find out that his team can’t make the Rose Bowl this year, though.

But amid all the craziness something beautiful emerged: an open race.

The Pac-10 — arguably the nation’s most balanced conference — is anyone’s game.

Cases are being made nationally for Oregon State because of the Rodgers brothers, for Washington because of Jake Locker and for Stanford because of Andrew Luck.

But Oregon State has a brand new quarterback, Washington hasn’t had a winning season since 2002 — when Locker was 14 years old — and Stanford lost a running back that rushed for 28 touchdowns in 2009.

But there, sitting somewhere far in the corner of the eye of the national media, lie the Arizona Wildcats.

Whether the rest of the country wants to admit it or not, Arizona is primed to reach its first Rose Bowl in program history.

There are plenty of reasons that logically place the Wildcats in the conference championship conversation. Quarterback Nick Foles is set to improve on his promising 2009 debut and his supporting cast should help make that an easy task.

Juron Criner, who caught nine touchdown passes despite only starting five games in 2009, is expected to breakout as one of the top wide receivers in the country in 2010. David Douglas, David Roberts and William “”Bug”” Wright are all talented recievers as well.

Standing behind Foles is Nic Grigsby, one of the most talented running backs to play at Arizona in a long time. But while Grigsby is the most athletic and effective back the Wildcats have, the senior has had a difficult time staying healthy. That may seem like a crushing blow year after year, but junior Keola Antolin and sophomore Greg Nwoko have filled in well, giving Arizona one of the best running back trios in the country.

But just like with Oregon State, Stanford and Washington, there are reasons to worry.

The 2009 defense that ranked 25th in the country was gutted up the middle by graduation, leaving the Wildcats to find two new defensive tackles, three new linebackers and a free safety.

There’s also that whole coaching carousel that rocked Tucson last winter when defensive coordinator Mark Stoops bolted for the same position at Florida State and offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes left to become the head coach at Louisiana Tech.

The coordinators have been replaced by four co-coordinators, three of them in-house hires — Seth Littrell and Bill Bedenbaugh on offense and Tim Kish on defense — and the fourth, Greg Brown, seems to have gelled with Kish just nicely.

Such turnover on defense and on the coaching staff has led most to dismiss Arizona, but I’ve got to be honest — I don’t buy it.

Inexperience on defense is worrisome, but the candidates to fill the vacancies have more potential than the players who left.

But there’s one reason why the defense and the coaching staff will be fine, and it’s the same reason why Arizona could very well win the Pac-10 this year.

Head coach Mike Stoops.

Regardless of the names that get the defensive coordinator label, this is Stoops’ system. It’s his defense. The same goes for coaching — Stoops himself said that he “”replaces great coaches with great coaches.””

Stoops has finally instilled the sense of pride in the Arizona football program that was so glaringly absent before he got here.

Arizona showed last year after devastating losses to Washington and Oregon that it can bounce back from difficult times, and this year will be no different.

With the talent Arizona does have and with the current climate of the Pac-10, the time is now, and Stoops knows that.

— Tim Kosch is a journalism senior and the sports editor for the Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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