Monday, September 20, 2010

Stoops, Arizona coming on strong

By Steve Ramirez

September 19, 2010

It was a slip of the tongue, but in another way it wasn't.

ESPN announcer Mark Jones, who covered the University of Arizona's home game against then-No. 9 Iowa on Saturday, mistakenly called Wildcats coach Mike Stoops "Bob," his brother who is coach at Oklahoma.

That's how most view Mike Stoops, playing second fiddle to Bob Stoops, who has won one Bowl Championship Series title and annually has the Sooners in the hunt in the BCS race.

But Mike Stoops is slowly gaining.

He's building a budding program at Arizona, which defeated the highly touted Hawkeyes 34-27 Saturday and is playing its way into contention in the Pac-10 race and the BCS title quest.

The Wildcats, with quarterback Nick Foles and California High School product Nic Grigsby at running back, are picking up believers. They moved from No. 24 to No. 14 in this week's USA Today coaches' poll and it looks like things can only get better.

Originally after it was announced that Jeremiah Masoli wouldn't be leading Oregon's high-octane offense this year, I picked the Wildcats as the team to beat in the Pac-10.

I came off that statement after seeing what Ducks coach Chip Kelly had, but the Wildcats have the tools to test Oregon and Stanford, our two favorites to win the Pac-10 and wind up in Pasadena.

But don't sleep on Arizona. Foles might be the best quarterback you never heard of.

In a conference that includes Washington's Jake Locker, Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley, Foles has held his own the past two seasons.

He threw for 2,486 yards and 19 touchdowns last year in leading the Wildcats to second place and the Holiday Bowl. This year, he's thrown for 877 yards and five scores, including 303 yards and two touchdowns in the upset of Iowa.

Throw in Grigsby, a speed demon who helps keep defenses honest, and this definitely is a team to watch.

The Wildcats should prove their point again this week when they host California, which is fresh off a 52-31 loss to Nevada.

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