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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Building for the future

Michael+Ignatov+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AUniversity+of+Arizona+meets+Washington+State+University+in+an+NCAA+football+game+in+Arizona+Stadium%2C+Tucson%2C+Ariz.%2C+Nov.+7%2C+2009.+Arizona+went+on+to+win+48-7%2C+getting+their+6th+win+of+the+season%2C+and+becoming+ball+eligible.
Michael Ignatov
Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat University of Arizona meets Washington State University in an NCAA football game in Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 7, 2009. Arizona went on to win 48-7, getting their 6th win of the season, and becoming ball eligible.

After the final whistle sounded Saturday afternoon at Arizona Stadium, UA head coach Mike Stoops was happily greeted by his cookie-bearing children before he could step off the playing field.

Smiling and laughing, he hugged his son and daughter, shared a brief moment with his wife and then headed to the locker room. In years past, Stoops was rarely in that type of mood directly after any game because he knew there was still a lot of work to be done to get his program where he wanted it to be.

The Wildcats’ 48-7 demolition of Washington State showed just how far the program has come under Stoops’ direction.

“”To give ourselves a chance to be in this position, I think is good for all of us,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”All the hard work that we do (is) to give us the chance to play for bigger stakes toward the end of the year and I think it does say a lot about Mike withstanding all that.””

One of those bigger stakes Mark Stoops mentioned is that the No. 18 Wildcats control their own destiny in the race for the Pacific 10 Conference championship. Arizona is the only school in the conference that has never played in the Rose Bowl. The sheer opportunity to have the Rose Bowl in their sights this late in the season might be surprising, because it wasn’t too long ago that the Wildcats were the cellar dwellers of the Pac-10.

However, finding a nationally ranked UA team near the top of the Pac-10 standings doesn’t surprise this group of Wildcats.

Not this season. Not for the next few seasons, either.

In previous years, just making a bowl game would be considered a dream come true for UA football. During Saturday’s postgame press conference, Mike Stoops almost seemed irritated when asked what it means to be bowl eligible for the second straight season.

“”I don’t think that’s a big deal to us. I think we have a lot out there to play for,”” he said with a furrowed brow. “”It’s a good position, but obviously each win now puts you in different categories. That’s certainly our goal … to go as high as we can and play as well as we can.””

To get as high as they can, the Wildcats must overcome a daunting four-week slate to close their season. A road trip to California is on deck, followed by the final home game of the season against No. 14 Oregon. The Wildcats’ final two games are at rival ASU and at No. 11 USC, respectively. In past years, Arizona would have likely been ecstatic to come out of that schedule with a 2-2 mark. This time around, the team has its collective sights set much, much higher.

“”We’ve always played well late in the year and played good against good teams,”” Mike Stoops said.

That trend should continue this year. And now, Arizona is one of those good teams.

The Wildcats were picked by Pac-10 media to finish the year as the conference’s eighth-best team, but they’ve already blown that prediction into oblivion. Using that as motivation for the season, Arizona set out to show that last year’s Las Vegas Bowl win wasn’t a one-year wonder.

This season a talented, deep UA squad is proving this won’t be the last time Stoops’ troops contend with the league’s elite.

— Brian Kimball is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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