Quarterback B.J. Denker and running back Ka'Deem Carey greet each other during Arizona's first spring practice.


TOLEDO, Ohio - Rockets are everywhere here, from the yellow sketch on the "Welcome to Toledo" sign to the 1960s-era U.S. Army missile located just outside the University of Toledo's football stadium.

It is, in many ways, the perfect launching pad for the Arizona Wildcats' football season.

The UA will take on Toledo - nickname: Rockets - tonight at 5 in a nationally televised game that will either vault the Wildcats back into the spotlight or scuttle their 2010 mission before liftoff.

There is no middle ground, one of the reasons UA coach Mike Stoops described himself as "anxious" this week. His Wildcats are coming off back-to-back 8-5 seasons, their most successful two-year stretch in more than a decade. Many consider the team a dark horse to play in its first-ever Rose Bowl.

However, Arizona is still remembered by most for its Holiday Bowl meltdown against Nebraska.

Mix in the Wildcats' odd streak of futility - they haven't defeated a nonconference team on the road since Aug. 30, 2001, John Mackovic's first game as coach - and the team's uncertainty on defense, and tonight's game becomes crucial.

The Wildcats' reputation hinges on the result.

"I certainly believe we hurt a little bit of our credibility the last time we were on the field," Stoops said. "Re-establishing the program is what I talk about."

Arizona will try to do it with four new coordinators - Seth Littrell and Bill Bedenbaugh will share duties on offense, with Greg Brown and Tim Kish handling the defense - and a dozen or so unproven starters. The Rockets return a core group of players that finished 12th nationally in total offense a year ago.

They won't be intimidated.

"There's so much parity in college football. If you don't come to play or don't bring your 'A' game, you'll get your butt beat," UA guard Vaughn Dotsy said. "You'll get embarrassed."

The Wildcats don't need reminding.

The Rockets are ESPN favorites, in part because they're willing to move their games to Thursday and Friday nights to accommodate television. Toledo's 2009 home opener against Colorado was viewed by millions throughout the country - including Arizona's players, who watched from a Tucson hotel the night before their Week 2 game against Northern Arizona. Toledo, buoyed by a creative offense and rabid crowd, rolled the Buffaloes 54-38.

"They just beat the dog out of us," said Brown, a Colorado assistant a year ago. "We've been drilling it into these guys' heads every single day: 'You better walk into this thing and have your eyes open. If you don't, they're going to smack you in the mouth and teach you a lesson.'

"It's a Friday night, an ESPN game, a night game. It has all the same kinds of markings."

Tonight's game will be different, at least in one regard. The Wildcats won't be rooting for Toledo, as many of them did last year.

Cinderella stories are fun to watch, Dotsy said, unless you're the favorite. Upsets are fun - when it's somebody else.

"It's always good to see a giant fall and somebody rise from the bottom," he said. "In our case, I don't want to see that."


• What: Arizona at Toledo

• When: 5 p.m.


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

More inside

"Friday night under the lights" is a dream come true for Marquis Flowers, making his Wildcats debut.

On Starnet

Read more about the Cats on reporter Ryan Finley's blog: go.azstarnet. com/finley