Arizona, Mike Stoops Remain Hungry Despite Early Success
Coach Mike Stoops came to Arizona in 2004. He lost more than he won for a long time. It wasn't unitl his fifth season in Tucson that the WIldcats experienced the postseason.
So now the Wildcats are ranked No. 14 in the nation -- the program's highest ranking since they opened the 1999 season at No. 4 -- and they are 3-0.
And they now have a signature win over No. 9 Iowa, the kind of win that sent the Wildcats players charging to midfield when the horn sounded; the kind of victory that make people pay attention.
In a Pac-10 season that promises parity and intrigue, Arizona is one of the teams that looks like it would have a legitimate shot at finishing the season in the Rose Bowl.
But that's jumping to the end. And Stoops isn't a jump-to-the-end guy.
He'll barely concede that his team finds itself in a pretty good place heading into Saturday's game against Cal at home.
"We haven't accomplished anything," Stoops said. "All we've done is won three games. Beating Iowa only helps us if we win this week. We haven't played a Pac-10 team."
Quarterback Nick Foles is keeping pace with the conference's stable of talented quarterbacks. He's completing more than 78 percent of his passes, which ranks him No. 2 in the country. Foles had two 300-yard passing games last season. He's had two in the past three games to open the season and leads the Pac-10 in passing yards at 292.3 yards a game.
Tailback Nic Grigsby ranks second in the Pac-10 with five rushing touchowns.
The Wildcats rank first in the Pac-10 in pass offense and four in scoring offense.
Defensively, Arizona held Iowa to 29 rushing yards and ranks first in the Pac-10 in rush defense and second in scoring defense.
Freshman defensive tackle Justin Washington leads the conference with four sacks.
"He's a playmaker," Stoops said of Washington.
Arizona's win over Iowa was the program's first win over a ranked non-conference opponent since 1989. It was a gutsy effort, the Wildcats giving up a 20-point lead and Foles leading a game-winning drive down the stretch for the 34-27 final.
But Stoops said that the Iowa game was "character-building". The emphasis on building.
"One game will not define us, win or lose, good or bad. Our goals are different than beating just Iowa. That was a one-week goal, just like beating Cal is another goal," Stoops said.
"We are in a good place right now. The kids like being where they are at, but they understand that it can go away very quickly.
They want more of themselves than what's been done in the past."
Stoops said in a sense, the Iowa win was "just another game."
"We've been good. We played big-time games. We're getting used to it," Stoops said. "The thing I took away was that we've matured so much in our program that it was no big deal to our players."
The big deal might be still to come.