TUCSON - For all the hype surrounding Arizona third-year coach Mike Stoops, the cold hard truth is this: In two years, he’s won six games and lost 16. And of those six wins, two came against Northern Arizona and two against woeful Washington.
Of course, that was expected in a program that had hit rock bottom. But Stoops just landed arguably the most heralded freshman class in school history.
Despite the inexperience of those players, the Wildcats faithful are presuming much this season.
“There’s a buzz everywhere,” junior cornerback Antoine Cason said. “I’m ready for a different season. I’m not used to what has happened in the past and I’m willing to change it for my teammates, myself and this university.”
At worst, the Wildcats consider themselves a tough out — a team that will challenge just about everybody they play this season.
Arizona lost five games by a touchdown or less in 2005.
At best, Arizona’s players privately believe they can challenge for a conference title.
To do that, the Wildcats will need quarterback Willie Tuitama to deliver on the promise he showed after starting the team’s final four games (two wins) last season.
They’ll also need a Herculean effort from the defense that was bolstered by the addition of end Louis Holmes, a transfer from Scottsdale Community College.
“I think we’re a more complete team in virtually every phase of the game,” Stoops said. “The addition of our recruits, and our recruiting, really has a chance to bolster this team.”
ONES TO WATCH
Willie Tuitama, QB: Coming out of a planned redshirt year, the freshman phenom led UA to wins in two of his four starts. Now he has expectations — perhaps too high for a sophomore. With a fuller complement of plays at his disposal and an added 30 pounds of muscle, Tuitama has a chance to create a real buzz in Tucson.
Louis Holmes, DE: The big-time recruit out of Scottsdale Community College started camp late with academic issues but is still expected to start and make a major impact. The Cats will find out soon if it was wise to stake their program’s and defense’s reputation on an unproven player with off-field character issues.
Nick Folk, K: He only had 11 attempts in 11 games last year because Arizona was usually so far out of games that they usually chose to go for it. Still, the heady senior is expected to challenge for All-Pac-10 honors.
Antoine Cason, CB: If the preseason first-team All-American has a good year, he’ll be seeking NFL money. He’s the vocal leader and the one guy on the defense to whom everyone listens. He’ll face tremendous pressure to produce from Stoops, a former DB himself.
Sept. 2 BYU, 7:15 p.m. Sept. 9 at LSU, 3:30 p.m. Sept. 16 Stephen F. Austin, 7 p.m. Sept. 23 USC, 5 p.m. Sept. 30 Washington, 7 p.m. Oct. 7 at UCLA, TBA Oct. 14 at Stanford, 2 p.m. Oct. 21 Oregon State, 4 p.m. Nov. 4 at Wash. State, TBA Nov. 11 California, 4 p.m. Nov. 18 at Oregon, 12:30 p.m. Nov. 25 ASU, 4 p.m.
Times subject to change
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Sept. 2 vs. BYU: The Wildcats will be big favorites vs. Stephen F. Austin and big underdogs vs. LSU in their other nonconference games. The season could hinge on this tossup.
Sept. 23 vs. USC: A strong showing last year in Los Angeles was widely credited with keeping the Cats competitive the rest of the season. With a national television audience watching and USC “depleted,” this is a golden opportunity for a big step up — or down.
Nov. 25 vs. Arizona State: The last couple of years, the healthier team has won. Will this be the year Mike Stoops permanently passes Dirk Koetter in the recruiting wars?
DID YOU KNOW?
The Wildcats’ 17 returning starters are the most in the conference. Quarterback Willie Tuitama leads a talented group of Samoan players on the UA roster. Others are Paul Philipp, Conan Amituanai and Lolomana Mikaele. All four could start this season. UA has three jerseys (red, blue and white) and two sets of pants (white, blue), giving it six uniform combinations. Arizona hasn’t posted a winning season since 1998.
OFFENSE Wide receiver
Anthony Johnson (6-2, 205, Jr.) B.J. Dennard (5-11, 194, Jr.)
Peter Graniello (6-6, 285, Jr.) Adam Grant (6-6, 280, Fr.)
Adam Hawes (6-4, 302, Sr.) Bill Wacholz (6-6, 294, So.)
Erick Levitre (6-1, 282, Sr.) Blake Kerley (6-2, 280, Fr.)
Joe Longacre (6-3, 303, So.) Daniel Borg (6-5, 280, Fr.)
Tanner Bell (6-8, 294, Sr.) Eben Britton (6-6, 285, Fr.)
Brandyn McCall (6-4, 245, Jr.) Brad Wood (6-3, 250, Sr.)
Mike Thomas (5-8, 178, So.) Syndric Steptoe (5-9, 185, Sr.)
Willie Tuitama (6-3, 218, So.) Adam Austin (6-3, 217, Sr.) Kris Heavner (6-2, 230, Sr.)
Chris Henry (6-0, 215, Jr.) Xavier Smith (5-11, 202, Fr.) Terry Longbons (5-11, 204, Fr.)
Earl Mitchell (6-2, 250, Fr.) Brandon Lopez (6-1, 220, So.)
DEFENSE Defensive end
Louis Holmes (6-6, 270, Jr.) Johnathan Turner (6-3, 260, So.)
Yaniv Barnett (6-1, 285, Jr.) Dave Bertrand (6-1, 291, So.)
Lionel Dotson (6-4, 280, Jr.) Rickey Parker (6-3, 286, Sr.)
Marcus Smith (6-5, 285, Sr.) Jason Parker (6-3, 265, Jr.)
Dane Krogstad (6-2, 240, Jr.) Marcus Hollingsworth (5-10, 230, Sr.)
Ronnie Palmer (6-3, 239, So.) Adrian McCovy (6-2, 234, So.)
Spencer Larsen (6-1, 240, Jr.) Xavier Kelley (5-11, 210, Fr.)
Wilrey Fontenot (5-9, 174, Jr.) Gerold Rodriguez (5-11, 175, So.)
Michael Johnson (6-2, 210, Sr.) Corey Hall (5-10, 188, Fr.)
Dominic Patrick (6-1, 210, Jr.) Brandon Tatum (6-1, 188, So.)
Antoine Cason (6-0, 182, Jr.) Gerold Rodriguez (5-11, 175, So.)
Nick Folk (6-1, 215, Sr.) Jason Bondzio (5-9, 168, So.)
Kyle McQuown (5-9, 175, Jr.)