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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats finally get over hump

    LAS VEGAS – When analyzing the last decade of Arizona football, there isn’t much to look at. Prior to the 2008 season, the Wildcats hadn’t appeared in a bowl game since 1998.

    When UA football head coach Mike Stoops was brought in five years ago, the main focus was to rebuild the Wildcat football program. After four seasons of falling short, naysayers were quick to call for Stoops’ head.

    This year, however, even in the face of major preseason defensive question marks, the Wildcats got it done, beating Brigham Young University 31-21 in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl and finishing with an 8-5 (5-4 Pacific 10 Conference) record.

    “”I love this team. All year they have been really special,”” Stoops said following the bowl win. “”They have embraced this challenge and played for me. …Four years ago, we were nothing. We were bottom of the Pac-10. We have climbed ourselves out of the hole and it took so much day in and day out to turn the program around.

    “”(The bowl victory) was five years in the making,”” Stoops added. “”It all came together the last month of the season and I couldn’t be more proud of the seniors who brought Arizona back.””

    It took every bit of what was arguably one of quarterback Willie Tuitama’s best performances as a Wildcat to get the job done, given that the Wildcats didn’t always look their best throughout the game.

    Tuitama, who was named the Las Vegas Bowl MVP, threw for two touchdown passes and 325 yards through the air and added a 6-yard rushing score to boost the Wildcats to their first bowl victory in 10 years.

    The quarterback admitted it would be hard to match his feelings after the game, especially with both the MVP and Las Vegas Bowl trophy in his hands.

    “”There were a lot of people who thought we couldn’t do it,”” Tuitama said after the game. “”BYU is a great team, they were 10-2, and there were a lot of people who doubted us, and we came out and played good team football.””

    Now Arizona is looking at a whole new set of challenges, especially since Tuitama has used up his eligibility as the Wildcats’ quarterback. Next season the reigns will be handed over to Matt Scott, who will be entering his sophomore year.

    With such big shoes to fill, Scott was already in the mindset of the new starter just minutes after Arizona walked out of Sam Boyd Stadium with the Las Vegas Bowl win.

    “”I have been ready since I got here,”” Scott said of taking over the program. “”As soon as we go back I will be watching film, working with the receivers nonstop to get the starting spot next year.””

    As a freshman, Scott was heralded because of his uncanny ability to makes plays both through the air and on the ground in high school and was predicted to have somewhat of a large role in Arizona’s offense.

    That didn’t turn out to be the plan this past season, but Scott is expected to take over as Arizona’s signal caller next season.

    “”Willie is a great quarterback and everyone had seen that (in Las Vegas),”” Scott said. “”I am going to have a hard time doing what he did here, but hopefully I can.””

    One thing that could make Scott’s transition from backup to starter will be that his head coach will be back. There was much speculation that Stoops would bolt for the vacancy at Iowa State in the days leading up to the Wildcats’ bowl game, but all rumors turned out to be fruitless.

    “”Mike told the players (the Friday before the game) we have no desire to go anywhere else. Our home is here at Arizona and we love it,”” Nicole Stoops, the head coach’s wife, said after the game. “”Mike has rebuilt this program and put his heart and soul into it. We have no desire to be anywhere else, we love it here.””

    As a result of the seasonÿ- and definitely aided by the bowl win – Mike Stoops was rewarded with a contract extension that should keep him in Tucson until at least the 2013 season, according to multiple reports.

    “”What Mike and this staff and what this team has done, everybody knows what they’re doing and anybody who doesn’t think this program is heading in the right direction doesn’t understand the game of college football,”” said Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood. “”It’s not about vindication. It’s not about anything other than we are where we are right now and it’s pretty doggone special and it’s going to get better.””

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