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Football Analysis: Stoops' hopes mirror Cal's recent success

SAUL LOEB/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA freshman cornerback Antoine Cason (5) tries to take down a Cal receiver during the Golden Bears' 38-0 victory over Arizona. Cason intercepted two passes in the game, bringing his season total to three.
By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 25, 2004
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It may not be too surprising, but it's worth mentioning.

For the fifth consecutive season, the hapless UA football team won't be going to a bowl game.

Arizona dropped to 1-6 on the season with Saturday's 38-0 loss to No. 7 California, insuring that the team won't reach the requisite six wins necessary to receive one of 56 invites to a postseason playoff.

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If the Wildcats needed any reassurance that a turnaround could occur sooner than later, they needn't look any further Saturday evening than across the Arizona Stadium turf.

"They're well-coached and they play hard," UA first-year head coach Mike Stoops said of Cal. "They play the game the way it's supposed to be played."

But the Golden Bears didn't always play the game that way, not at least until they hired Jeff Tedford to replace Tom Holmoe as head coach prior to the 2002 season.

In improving its mark to 5-1 this season, Cal is a long way from the 1-10 record it saw in Holmoe's final season of 2001.

"I think just surround yourself with good people that care about the kids, and create an environment where the kids can feel good about themselves, get some confidence and self-esteem," said Tedford. "I'm sure that coach Stoops is well on his way to doing that."

"It just takes a lot of hard work," Stoops said of turning his own team's fortunes around. "You can't waste any time."

Tedford took virtually no time himself, leading Cal back to respectability with a 7-5 record in 2002 before posting an 8-6 mark a year ago, including handing co-national champion Southern California its only defeat of the season.

Stoops said one of the biggest steps the Wildcats need to take toward climbing out of the Pacific 10 Conference basement is to recruit heavily on both sides of the ball, a simple but true idea that Tedford agreed with.

"He has them believing, and I'm sure after he has a recruiting class or two and they get into his system and his beliefs and philosophies - I'm sure they're going to be fine."

By introducing game-ready junior college transfers and meshing veteran talent with incoming freshmen, Tedford's 2004 team is among the nation's best this season, on the verge of a Bowl Championship Series invitation at season's end.

Aaron Rodgers, Cal's Heisman-hopeful quarterback, and J.J. Arrington, one of the prime running backs in the Pac-10, if not the nation, have been juco gems for Tedford, while inherited talents, like wideout Geoff McArthur, who set Cal's all-time receiving record against Arizona, thrive under the third-year coach.

Tedford said he's certain Stoops will be able to duplicate the success he's seen at Cal, but it's really just a matter of time.

"You can really tell that they really play hard, and it's just a matter of time," Tedford said, adding that Arizona's current crop of players isn't worth writing off yet. "They've been close in a lot of games, and it's just a matter of time."

"They have a lot of guys who play hard all the time. You could be up 38-0 and they're still bringing it," Tedford added. "He's the right guy for the job, and he's going to do a tremendous job here."

UA junior Darrell Brooks said, even with a six-game losing streak, players still have confidence that change is on the horizon.

"We're still learning," Brooks said. "We have to believe in what coach Stoops is teaching us."

Wildcat freshman cornerback Antoine Cason said despite the inability to finish over .500, he won't write off this season yet.

"This season is not over. We can still win some games," Cason said after intercepting two of Rodgers' passes Saturday. "With my mindset, (change) is a week-to-week (process)."

Stoops didn't concede the Wildcats' final four games this season, but did give a little insight in what he thinks is still to come for Wildcat football.

"A lot of people say you make your most improvement from your first game to the second," Stoops said. "I hope we do that from our first year to our second."

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