The Arizona Wildcats are the only team in the history of the Pac-10 never to have made the Rose Bowl. That could change this year - just hear us out. Here are 10 reasons 2010 could be the Wildcats' last, best chance for a trip to Pasadena.
1. Arizona has arrived …
After a decade in the football wilderness, the Wildcats have re-established themselves with back-to-back 8-5 seasons and bowl appearances under coach Mike Stoops.
Given their recent big-game experience (and success), the next step - a Rose Bowl appearance - doesn't seem that far off. Internally, the UA is raising its standards: Stoops has talked openly about his dream of going to Pasadena.
"We've had some success," Stoops said, "but now we have a chance to do something that's never been done. … I don't know what can be more motivating than that."
2. … and their fans have bought in
For a change. The Wildcats surpassed their 2009 season-ticket totals at the beginning in July and appear headed for stone-cold sellouts against Iowa, Arizona State and USC. Although some of the fans' excitement stems from the opponents - name a better home slate in the last 10 years - there's a buzz surrounding the 2010 team that hasn't been there in the past. To the Wildcats' credit, they typically give the home crowd something to cheer about. The UA has won 12 of its last 15 home games.
3. USC can't go to Pasadena
The program that aims to "win forever" didn't do much of it this summer. Coach Pete Carroll left for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, prompting the Trojans to hire the smirky Lane Kiffin away from Tennessee.
It got even worse in June when the NCAA hammered the Trojans with a two-year postseason ban and a loss of scholarships. Athletic director Mike Garrett, an ex-USC football star, was removed as athletic director shortly thereafter.
Although USC still has the conference's best collection of talent, its inability to play in Pasadena has left a void at the top of the Pac-10 pecking order. Oregon was picked to win the conference in the preseason media poll, while five other teams - USC, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona and Washington - received first-place votes.
4. The Ducks are doomed at QB
Jeremiah Masoli's run-ins with the law - he was arrested first on a charge of stealing a laptop from a fraternity party, then accused of carrying a small amount of marijuana - got him kicked off the team. It may also have opened the conference race. Ducks coach Chip Kelly will choose between senior Nate Costa and sophomore Darron Thomas before the Ducks' Sept. 4 opener against New Mexico. Though both have their strengths - Costa's a natural passer; Thomas is a mini-Masoli - neither seems capable of carrying the team to another Rose Bowl.
5. Arizona State is down
Poor ASU. For years, the Sun Devils scored at will under coach Dirk Koetter but were incapable of playing tough defense. Now that ASU has a stout defense, led by linebacker Vontaze Burfict, it seemingly can't score.
The Sun Devils were picked to finish ninth in the Pac-10 preseason media poll. Coach Dennis Erickson is hoping a new quarterback (Michigan transfer Steven Threet or sophomore Brock Osweiler), offensive coordinator (Noel Mazzone) and scheme (spread passing attack) can turn the team's fortunes around. His job may depend on it.
6. Nick Foles can throw it
Arizona wasn't expected to do much last year, experts said, because the Wildcats didn't have an established quarterback.
"Now that we do," Stoops said with a chuckle, "are they going to pick us first?"
Foles was a revelation in his first full season, throwing for 2,486 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Arizona's quarterback will be a key to its Rose Bowl chances. In four of the past eight seasons, the Pac-10 passing leader has played in the Rose Bowl.
7. Trevin Wade can defend it
Arizona's best teams have nearly always been led by a defensive back, specifically Chuck Cecil, Darryll Lewis, Chris McAlister or Tony Bouie.
And now, there's Wade. The junior from Round Rock, Texas, might be the best of Arizona's four returning defensive starters. In 26 career games - 13 of them starts - Wade has 83 tackles, 17 pass deflections and nine interceptions. A 5-foot-10-inch, 192-pounder, Wade is a preseason candidate for the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive back.
8. The Cats can get to the quarterback
The Pac-10 is a league that typically rewards the most progressive offensive team in each game. The best way to stop it is to sack the quarterback. Luckily, the Wildcats are stacked at defensive end. Seniors Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed anchor a position that's expected to be the team's biggest strength this season. Elmore registered a team-high 10 1/2 sacks in 2009, while Reed is two years removed from an eight-sack season.
How important is it to get to the quarterback?
The Wildcats were 8-2 when out-sacking their opponents in 2009.
9. The schedule aligns …
The Pac-10's round-robin schedule will benefit Arizona this year. The Wildcats will play five of their nine conference games at home, with two always-tough opponents - USC and Arizona State - coming to Tucson. Though Arizona will travel to Oregon, its road slate isn't particularly daunting. Washington State, UCLA and Stanford went a combined 16-22 a year ago.
10. … and the stars, well, don't
Yes, the Rodgers brothers - James and Jacquizz - are still in the Pac-10, as is Washington quarterback Jake Locker. But the bulk of the Pac-10's 2009 stars have moved on. Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart, last year's conference leader in rushing yards (1,871) and touchdowns (28), and a Heisman Trophy finalist, was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. The conference's passing leader, Oregon State's Sean Canfield, is with the New Orleans Saints. Tackles-for-loss leader Brian Price of UCLA is playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And Masoli, the star of the 2009 Pac-10 champs? He's at Ole Miss after being kicked out of Oregon.