If Arizona football fans need any kind of assurance that the Wildcats' program can improve, they must look no further than the California Golden Bears.
The Bears had their worst season in modern school history in 2001. They were 1-10 overall and 0-8 in Pacific 10 Conference play, considered by many to be the worst Division I team in the nation.
California (4-1, 1-1 Pac-10)
Team Nickname: Golden Bears
The school fired then head coach Tom Holmoe and in stepped current head coach Jeff Tedford.
Two seasons later, Cal (4-1, 1-1) is battling for a Bowl Championship Series bid and considered one of the nation's best teams with a No. 7 Associated Press ranking.
The Wildcats will get a first-hand look at the Bears Saturday at 4 p.m. at Arizona Stadium as part of Family Weekend.
The 2004 Bears are ranked number one in the Pac-10 in both total offense and total defense and were just yards away from beating defending co-national champion Southern California for the second straight year.
Coming into the season, the Bears' offense was expected to be solid. They returned starting quarterback and Insight Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, All-American receiver Geoff McArthur, senior running back J.J. Arrington and receiver Chase Lyman.
No one on that list has disappointed.
Rodgers is technically second in the conference in pass efficiency, behind teammate Reggie Robertson, who has only attempted five passes and showed his accuracy in completing an NCAA-record 23 consecutive attempts in the Bears' 23-17 loss to No. 1 USC two weeks ago.
"I think his preparation is great. He's a student of the game and he's very intelligent - that's key in our offense. He's doing a great job of that," Tedford said. "He's very efficient throwing the ball, making great decisions."
McArthur is fifth in the league in receptions and is just 58 yards away from becoming Cal's all-time leader in receiving yardage.
In the Bears' last two games, McArthur had 16 catches for 264 yards.
Possibly the most influential of all of the Bears' offensive weapons thus far is Arrington.
The senior running back leads the Pac-10 in rushing, scoring and is third in all-purpose yards.
In the Bears' first five contests, Arrington has gone over 100 yards every game, gaining 7.5 yards per carry and finding the end zone nine times.
"He's very, very aggressive and understands angles," Tedford said. "He's entrenched in our offense."
Lyman was also making huge contributions to the Cal offense before going down with a season-ending knee injury against USC two weeks ago. He was averaging 103.5 yards a game and 29.6 yards a catch before he was hurt.
All of these offensive stars have given Cal the most productive offense (518.2 ypg) in the country and the third highest scoring squad (41.6 ppg).
Even more surprising than the Bears' top-notch offense is their nationally ranked defense.
Cal is ranked 10th in yards allowed in the country and is the stingiest defense in the Pac-10. The unit is led by senior defensive end Ryan Riddle. Riddle leads the league in sacks with seven and has helped the team hold opponents to just 17 points a game on 274 yards.
A major reason for the Bears' success on defense is the squad returns nine starters from last year.
Arizona senior receiver Ricky Williams said the Cal defense is one of the best he's seen this year.
"They're very disciplined and they play very sound," said Williams.
He added that the Wildcats will have to avoid any mistakes to be successful against the No.7 team.
On paper, Cal looks better than the Wildcats in almost every area, but Tedford said because of the balance in the Pac-10, every week should be a battle.
"We're going to have to play our best and execute," Tedford said. "We can't afford ever to take any time off. We have to execute, or we know that in this conference any team can beat you. I feel confident that our team is mature enough to understand that."