|Wildcats looking to contend in Pac-10|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 06 October 2008 22:05|
California is tied for first place with ... Arizona?
Granted, it's early October. And the Wildcats' conference victories have come against woeful Washington and struggling UCLA.
But the Wildcats (4-1, 2-0) believe they're a contender and are daring someone to prove otherwise.
``If people want to underestimate us and come in here and say, 'They're at the top of the Pac right now, but they haven't played anybody,' let them say it, because it's just going to be bad for them,'' tailback Nic Grigsby said Monday. ``If they want to take us lightly, let them take us lightly. When they play us, they're going to see we're no joke.''
Up to now, Arizona's schedule has been the joke. The Wildcats' opponents - Idaho, Toledo, New Mexico, UCLA and Washington - have combined for six victories over major-college opponents. Half those wins belong to New Mexico, which beat Arizona.
ccording to the latest NCAA figures.
The Wildcats won't have to apologize for their schedule much longer. They face their stiffest test to date when they visit Stanford (3-3, 2-1) on Saturday. Then Arizona comes home to face California on Oct. 18 and No. 8 Southern California on Oct. 25.
But the Wildcats don't want to look ahead - a wise move, given their shoddy recent history.
``We've struggled way too much in the past to take any of this for granted,'' junior left tackle Eben Britton said.
With the Pac-10 as weak as it has been in recent memory, Arizona has a chance to stamp itself as a legitimate contender for the conference title in the next three weeks. That's a big change from the preseason, when the Wildcats merely hoped to draw their first bowl bid since 1998, ending the longest drought in the Pac-10.
``We're starting to understand we're a good football team,'' said coach Mike Stoops, in his fifth year in the desert. ``If we do things right like we did the other night (a 48-14 rout of Washington), we can play awfully well, and we're going to have our opportunity to win a bunch of games.''
It may take a bunch of wins to impress the pollsters. The Wildcats were 11th among ``others receiving votes'' in this week's Associated Press Top 25, tied with Fresno State, and haven't been ranked since Oct. 22, 2000.
. ``I'm sure the people are excited about what we're doing. Probably optimistically cautious - would that be a good way of putting it?''
There are plenty of reasons for optimism.
The offense has come together behind senior quarterback Willie Tuitama, who ranks 16th in national passing efficiency. Arizona averages 43.6 points per game, eighth in the country.
Arizona has had a pass-first reputation in recent seasons, but the Wildcats have established a respectable ground game around Grigsby, a shifty sophomore from Whittier, Calif. He has eight rushing touchdowns - one more than Arizona scored as a team a year ago.
Arizona's defense, always an emphasis under Stoops, ranks 17th in scoring defense (15.2 points per game) and second in total defense (226.2 yards per game).
But the biggest difference may be in the Wildcats' approach. They say they learned a lesson in the loss to the Lobos.
``It really hit us right in our face and made us think what we need to do,'' Grigsby said. ``I think we got a little lackadaisical, and we really didn't go in prepared to play that game, and it really hit us. So we're prepared now.''