April 18, 2006
Tucson, AZ (CSTV U-WIRE) -- Heading into his third year as head coach, Mike Stoops has won six games. So will he be able to match that total, plus one, thus sending a bowl invitation the Wildcats' way for the first time since 1998?
(You may be thinking to yourself, "Wait a second, doesn't a team only need six wins to be bowl eligible?" Well, yes, that may have been true when Arizona played an 11-game schedule, but this year, there are 12 games on the slate, meaning the Wildcats can't apply wins against Division I-AA schools to their bowl-eligibility status. One of the teams on the schedule in 2006, Stephen F. Austin, is a Division I-AA school.)
Here are seven reasons why his team will - and won't - win seven games in 2006:
Will: Willie Tuitama. It probably could be left at that, but here's evidence: In the five games that the soon-to-be super sophomore appeared, the team averaged 27.2 points per game, compared with the 19.3 in which he didn't play. Sure the Wildcats only won two of those five games, but they easily could have won two more: The first against Oregon if Tuitama had started the game (he entered into a 0-7 hole, they lost 28-21) and the second if Tuitama hadn't taken a cheap shot from a Sun Devil defender that knocked him out of the game with his team up 20-12. (The Wildcats went on to lose, 23-20.) By the way, Arizona's an even .500 in games he starts.
Won't: Ever heard of the sophomore slump? Tom Tunnicliffe (1980-1983) has. After appearing in seven games his freshman season and starting six - beating No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 2 UCLA along the way - and completing 96-of-173 passes for 1,204 yards and 8 TDs against 9 interceptions, Tunnicliffe heaved up 17 interceptions, one shy of the school record, his sophomore season.
Will: Stephen F. Austin and Brigham Young - two schools that shouldn't present much of a challenge to Arizona - are on the schedule, meaning the team will have to win five of its remaining 10 games to reach the seven-game plateau.
Won't: Louisiana State and Southern California also grace that schedule, narrowing the list of potential victims to eight, meaning the Wildcats will have to beat five of the following: Washington, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State, Washington State, California, Oregon and ASU. They're 4-10 against those teams over the past two years.
Will: For the first time in years, "talent-laden" can be used as an adjective to describe the Wildcats. They return 17 of 22 starters overall, eight on offense and seven on defense.
Won't: Two of this year's starters were senior leaders: running back Mike Bell and safety Darrell Brooks. The void left by those two desperately needs to be filled, both on the field and in the locker room.
Will: The defensive secondary will be among the best - and most experienced - in the Pacific 10 Conference. Junior-to-be corners Wilrey Fontenot and Antoine Cason have literally played every defensive down of every game of their respective careers.
Won't: Another part of that defense, notably the hyped linebacker unit of Dane Krogstad, a junior next season, Spencer Larson, also a junior-to-be, and Ronnie Palmer, who will be a redshirt sophomore, have yet to play a single snap together. The question remains: How will they gel?
Will: Mike Stoops. He knows how to win from his days in Oklahoma and has his troops poised for a breakout season in 2006. Their hard work and determination will translate into results on the field.
Won't: The biggest counterforce to hard work is injuries. Will the team be able to stay healthy? If not, will depth be a problem akin to years past?
Will: The running game. Competition breeds success, and this spring, the biggest competition has been at the running back position. From redshirt junior-to-be Chris Henry to sophomore Xavier Smith to redshirt freshman-to-be Terry Longbons, there is no lack of options for offensive coordinator Mike Canales.
Won't: The running game. The talented group is generally young. How quickly can they learn? Will the lack of overall experience hinder the group? Can they hold onto the ball?
Will: With the addition of a sixth Pac-10 bowl that rotates between the Hawaii Bowl and the Fort Worth Bowl for the next four years, someone has to go.
Won't: Those someones could be USC, California, UCLA, ASU, Oregon and OSU.
So there you have it, seven reasons to look forward to next season, and seven more for the team to prove me wrong. There's a lot to look forward to next year.
(C) 2006 Arizona Daily Wildcat via CSTV U-WIRE