By Eric Wein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

It would usually take some flipping through Sports Illustrated's annual college football preview issue to discover what the magazine had to say about Arizona.

The Wildcats might be expected to surprise a few teams, but little more than that.

Not any more.

The magazine picked Arizona as the best team in the country this year.

Five of the most prominent members of Arizona's defense graced Sports Illustrated's cover with the title "ROCK SOLID" and "Arizona is No. 1." The magazine hit newsstands yesterday.

Listed on top of the magazine's ranking of all 107 Division I-A schools, the Wildcats have gained a different kind of respect entering their most-anticipated season in school history.

"This is something you're always shooting for," right guard Warner Smith said. "It's neat but that's all it is, that's where it ends. If we're still ranked No. 1 by January 2nd, then I'll be happy. This is just something to put in our scrap books."

Arizona coach Dick Tomey and his players downplayed the honor when the announcement was made Tuesday. Instead, they tried to focus on their Sept. 1 season opener at Georgia Tech.

"It doesn't do us any good to think about it much longer," Tomey said. "We need to take it for what it's worth. It's something that's more of a credit to the overall program than to this team.

The team probably wasn't thinking about the honor while running sprints at practice. There were no signs of trash-talking or finger-waving. They just maintained the same intensity that they have had the past few seasons.

"People years ago would have never believed something like this would happen," Tomey said. "They had a preference. They now realize Arizona can be a preference in football."

The Wildcats' defense, known throughout the nation as Desert Swarm, is what Sports Illustrated calls its primary reason for the ranking.

Accompanying the seven-page story on the Wildcats is a picture of Tedy Bruschi driving through campus on his scooter and another of the coaching staff on retreat.

"Number one, huh?" linebacker Akil Jackson said while putting on his shoulder pads before practice. "It doesn't feel any different than this time last year. It's nice to get respect but it doesn't mean anything."

Arizona's 11 1994 opponents were probably reading Sports Illustrated yesterday and looking forward to their meeting with the Wildcats.

The magazine thinks more highly of the Wildcats than the two other major polls do. The Associated Press picked Arizona seventh and the USA Today/CNN coaches' poll ranked the Wildcats No. 8..

Sports Illustrated has never picked Arizona No. 1.

"Nothing like this has ever happened to me, so it's a trip," left guard Pulu Poumele said. "It's just someone's opinion. We still have to win games."

Tomey said the exposure would boost recruiting and despite downplaying it, his team was worthy of the honor.

"Our team deserved a lot of recognition," Tomey said. "At the end of last year, we were one of the best teams in the country. We'll find out what we deserve next week." Read Next Article