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Commentary: Why you should watch UA football in 2004


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James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
By James Kelley
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
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When you have a team that can't compete, there tend to be some open seats.

Last season, the student section was bursting at the seams at the beginning of play. But once halftime hit, Arizona Stadium was as crowded as the Athens Olympics.

So why should you come back for more in'04?

Here are just a handful of reasons:

Heavner's progression

Since the once-great quarterback race is limited to who will be the backup, the QB position will be boring, right?

Wrong.

While Heavner didn't win any games on his own and kept throwing to the wrong-colored jersey in his true freshman year, he did show that "it" quality. All he needs to do is cut down on his picks and he will drop his "heave another interception" nickname and become quite the signal-caller.

Underdog 'Cats

I hate to say I told you so - well, actually I don't - but if I had a nickel for everyone who told me they were kicking himself for missing the 2003 Washington game, I could buy out Mackovic's contract. Once again - in every game except the opener against the 'Jacks - the UA will be the underdog, so rushing the field and seeing just how unbreakable those goalposts are is quite possible.

Heck, since there probably aren't two national champs scheduled to crush the Wildcats at home this season - a la Lousiana Tech and Southern California last year - the chances of more than one home win are very good.

Stoops and Bell

Watching Mike Stoops' animation on the sidelines could be worth the price of the Zona Zoo pass alone, but there is also Bell. The junior is the best running back in the Pac-10 and should be a serious Heisman candidate in 2005.

Bell has Barry Sanders-esque moves, coupling mobility with a power attack that should give Stoops plenty of reason to jump up and down.

Preason rankings worthless

Yes, the Wildcats are picked to finish last in the Pac-10 by nearly everyone. Yes, the closest they are to either top 25 is one vote in the coaches' poll - likely by Stoops or his brother, who also votes in it.

But what do the "experts" know? Preseason rankings are just based on the year before.

The UA returns 19 of 22 starters, who obviously struggled a lot when pressed into action early in their careers. Also consider that the team's weakness, defense, is the Stoops brothers' forte.

Now add a lot of offseason work and some actual coaching - sorry, coach Mack - and the 'Cats should win a few. Had Arizona any kicking game whatsoever last year, it would have won at least two more games. So it isn't much of a stretch to say the UA will be the latest of the Pac-10 media's 10th-place teams to finish with a winning record.

Two of the last three have.

College atmosphere

While Arizona is a basketball , softball, swimming, and volleyball school, football still is "the" great game.

I don't know about you, but I would trade a perennial Final Four contender for a perennial BCS bowl contender in a second. Even when the football recap in nearly every paper - including the Wildcat - consists of little more than who the 'Cats played and how badly they lost, there's still something thrilling about big-time college football, from the trough urinals to the pom-pom girls. The team's 2001 slogan, "Gameday: The best part is being there," still rings true.

Fighting like Wildcats

We know that TBS will probably never broadcast another UA football game again, and it's hard to blame the station.

The cable network picked up three games at Arizona Stadium for national telecasts, only to see Arizona lose by a combined score of 152-23.

National champions or not, LSU and USC simply embarrassed Arizona, as did Oregon.

Expect a 180-degree change under Stoops, who should eventually bring back a strong defense - as opposed to Mackovic's NCAA 2005/Madden 2005 video game "score more points" philosophy.

Arizona should return to the scrappy teams of Dick Tomey, Larry Smith and Pop McKale - teams that earned the title of Wildcats for the fight they showed and their ability to keep fans in seats until the game was actually over.

Nowhere to go but up

OK. Last year I said the team could only get better, but I was proven wrong ... very wrong.

But this time I really mean it. There's nowhere to go but up. I guess technically the Wildcats could lose all their games, but that's not likely.

Last year, the UA's stats were so bad they would be very tough to top - or bottom, rather. Keeping in mind that there are only 117 Division 1-A teams, last year the UA was 108th in total offense, 113th in scoring offense, 109th in total defense, 107th in scoring defense and made only two field goals - none since Mack was sacked.

Could this be the start of something big?

Remember, Stoops wasn't exactly the pimple-faced "Star Trek" fan at the dance last year.

He had his choices and picked the UA. Stoops looked at the UA and saw a sleeping giant with a great college town, great weather (most of the year), top-notch facilities, a spot in a BCS conference, a chance to recruit in California and Texas, an administration committed to winning and good, raw players.

Even before his first game, he remade a program that was deftly described by "ESPN the Magazine" as the "Haiti of college football." He's helped sell tickets by the boatload, worked the players out hard by restoring discipline and even picked up some top-notch recruits for 2005 without stepping onto the field.

It looks like the beginning of something big, so you ought to jump on the bandwagon now. Remember, since Stoops was hired, the UA is undefeated, while his former team at Oklahoma is 0-2.

Stoops has made Arizona football as cool as blue helmets and red quarterback practice jerseys.

Now all he has to do is win.

James Kelley is a journalism senior and can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.



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