The clock is ticking for University of Arizona football coach Mike Stoops.
Stoops knows it. The fans seem to know it. Some of the players even admit this might be a make-or-break season for the program.
Heading into the fifth year of his regime, Stoops has done practically everything to improve the program, with one exception – getting to a bowl game.
“It is ultimately about wins and losses and I certainly understand that,” Stoops said.
Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood hired Oklahoma’s hot-shot defensive genius to bring some energy and spark to a program that was dying.
That was almost 4 1/2 years ago.
The Wildcats are still waiting for their first winning season and bowl berth in nine seasons.
The boo birds and “fire Stoops” calls were plentiful last year after the Wildcats lost at home to Stanford.
Fans want more wins from Stoops, who is 17-29 at Arizona and has three years remaining on his contract.
“The fans are passionate for what we do. That is fine. That is good,” Stoops said. “I am very passionate. They get very upset when we lose games that we should have won. Believe me I understand that. I am more upset than they are. It hurts.”
Case for a bowl bid
The view is better than before Stoops’ arrival.
Even Stoops admits he loses sight of that sometimes.
“There are things I have to take a step back and take a look at. Things that we have done well,” Stoops said. “You get beat down with all the negatives, with all we haven’t done.”
The Wildcats are riding high in several areas:
•Attendance: Three of the school’s top six attendance season have come during Stoops’ tenure. UA averaged 52,160 a year ago despite a 5-7 record. The year before UA has its second-best year in season ticket sales.
• Academic Progress Report: Arizona is still below the standard but has shown enough improvement over the past year to prevent the loss of scholarships.
The Wildcats were saddled with scholarship losses the previous two years because some players transferred following John Mackovic’s departure.
• November: The Wildcats are 8-4 in the month, including a 5-1 record against ranked opponents that has put them in the national spotlight.
Arizona defeated an unbeaten and No. 7 ranked UCLA squad 52-14 in 2005, upset No. 8 California 24-20 in 2006 and downed No. 2 Oregon 34-24 last year.
• No presidential meetings: Players are not lining up to complain to the university president about the coaching staff and the direction of the program
In 2002, more than 40 players talked with previous UA president Peter Likins about issues with Mackovic.
• There have been few off-the-field issues: A council of players has been established to police players on nonfootball issues, and to make sure the right thing is done at team functions.
• NFL draft prospects: The Wildcats have produced nine NFL draft choices in the past three years, including first-rounder Antoine Cason in 2007.
UA had five draft choices in the previous five years combined.
• Pac-10 wins: The Wildcats have won at least four Pac-10 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1997 and 1998 campaigns.
“We are a much stabler program than we have been in a long time and getting to a bowl game and having winning seasons is obviously the next part of the progression,” Stoops said. “That is something we are excited about.”
Case against a bowl bid
Arizona hasn’t won enough.
The Wildcats have had chances to get to their first bowl game since defeating Nebraska 23-20 in the 1998 Holiday Bowl but have fallen short.
• Losing the “easy” ones: The Wildcats have played their best against ranked teams, but have fallen short against the perceived gimmees on the schedule.
Arizona lost to a struggling Stanford program twice, in 2005 and 2007 – both times at home.
A 29-27 home loss to New Mexico added to woes last season that cost the Wildcats a winning season.
• Not close enough: Arizona is 6-13 in games decided by nine points or fewer.
• Three straight losses to ASU: After a compelling 34-27 upset of No. 18 Arizona State in Stoops’ first year the Wildcats have fallen three times to their archrival.
Beating ASU instead of losing 28-14 at home in 2005 and 20-17 in Tempe a year ago would have secured bowl berths.
“(They have) cost us opportunities, obviously big ones,” Stoops said. “Not winning our last game can have a negative effect at times.”
Most of UA’s numbers jumped when it went to a spread offense in 2007:
Categories 2007 2006 2005 2004
Passing rank/yds 10th/308.5 94th/169 48th/229 98th/170.5
Rushing rank/yds 114th/76.7 110th/84.2 89th/122 93rd/118.4
Total offense/yds 67th/385.2 115th/253 74th/351 112th/288.5
Scoring rank/pts 56th/28 105th/16.6 80th/22.9 116th/14.9