Friday, May 14, 2010

Arizona Has Overtaken Arizona State for State Bragging Rights

By Tom Phillips

May 14, 2010

On New Year's Eve 2007, Arizona State had just played in the Holiday Bowl, while Arizona was in the midst of a 10-year bowl drought.

Just two years later the tables have turned.

Arizona is coming off a Holiday Bowl appearance and second place finish in the Pac-10 while ASU sat at home for a second straight year.

Where we stand today though, that's where we stand with the state of football in Arizona.

The Wildcats are optimistic about the upcoming season despite having to replace seven starters on defense thanks to an potent offense led by Nick Foles. Arizona State, on the other hand, is looking forward to having a tenacious defense that flies over the field but is worried about an offense that was inept for most of last season.

Arizona has been able to do this thanks to Mike Stoops. Less than two seasons ago Stoops was in the same spot Erickson now stands.

On the hot seat.

He has taken a program that had bare cupboards in terms of what they had; no stars, no NFL-ready players, no depth, and he has turned it into a program that was six seconds away from their first-ever Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl berth.

How has Stoops done it?

His coaching.

The once fiery coach has been able to develop lesser-known and recruited players to Tucson and develop them into NFL caliber players.

Take the 2008 recruiting classes. ASU was able to convince Gerell Robinson, Ryan Bass and Jarrell Barbour (all four star recruits at the time) to go back on their commitments to Arizona and go to play in Tempe. Arizona recruited Juron Criner, Keola Antolin (three star recruits) and David Douglas (a two star) instead.

Turn the clock ahead to 2010 and Criner is making the case to be the top receiver in the Pac-10, while Douglas has been a solid slot receiver for Arizona. Antolin has been solid as the part-time starter at running back for the Cats. Bass and Barbour are no longer at ASU, while Robinson has disappointed at receiver.

He has been able to find those diamond in the rough players, going out of state to California and Texas where the talent is much better than Arizona. The last time an elite recruit from Arizona signed with an in-state team was 2004, when Zach Miller signed with ASU.

That was until Marquis Flowers signed with the Wildcats this past recruiting cycle and with Arizona's possibly best recruiting class coming in 2011, there may be no better time to be the top dog in Arizona.

The tide in Arizona has shifted quickly. After dominating football in Arizona for two decades, ASU is at a point where it must win for their coach to keep his job and Arizona is in the driver's seat for the state's affection for college football.

While momentum has shifted to the Wildcats, this shows just how important it is for a team to keep it and improve upon it.

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