After years of fits and starts, the Arizona Wildcats have established themselves as contenders in the Pac-10 Conference.
The UA has posted back-to-back 8-5 seasons and consecutive bowl appearances. Coach Mike Stoops no longer has to worry about job security.
And, for the first time in years, the Wildcats are enjoying a recruiting edge.
Twelve high school players, including highly touted quarterback Daxx Garman, running back Ka'Deem Carey and linebacker Rob Hankins, have already committed to the 2011 recruiting class.
A year ago at this time, the Wildcats had four recruits. Two years ago, they had three.
"It's a new world when it comes to recruiting," said Jeremy Crabtree, national editor of the Rivals.com recruiting service.
"You've got to be aggressive. You can't sit around and wait for people to get kids. Twelve commitments, including a couple four-star kids, speaks volumes."
Here are three reasons why the Wildcats are sitting pretty in July:
1. Success. UA recruiting coordinator Dave Emerick said on-field success plays "a huge part" when trying to secure commitments during the summer.
It's hard to argue with the Wildcats' recent run; they've won nearly as many games (16) in the past two years as they took from 2004 to 2007 (17).
Stoops snapped the UA's 10-year bowl drought with a pair of postseason bids, including December's Holiday Bowl game against Nebraska.
Carey, Canyon del Oro High School's star running back, said Tuesday that the team's recent success "just showed me that they're really trying to build a program."
"They're serious about what they're trying to do," he said. "They're trying to build a strong program."
Carey, a four-star recruit and the state's best player, chose the Wildcats last month.
Crabtree said Carey's "got some jets," and may be among the nation's most underrated stars.
"He's the type of gamebreaker who should be very exciting to watch in Arizona's offense," Crabtree said.
2. Stability. Arizona's success has eliminated much of the negative recruiting that dogged Stoops throughout his first four seasons.
The Wildcats coach signed a multimillion-dollar extension in April 2009, and has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay at the UA long term.
Stunningly, Stoops is now the Pac-10's third-most tenured coach - only Cal's Jeff Tedford and Oregon State's Mike Riley were employed by their schools when he was hired.
"For the longest time, at least for the last couple years, there's been uncertainty about the Wildcats program," Crabtree said. "There were always question marks as to whether the program has turned the corner. Last year's success showed that they've turned the corner."
3. A new approach. Though it didn't receive much off-season attention, Stoops' decision to hire Emerick away from Texas Tech has been a key move.
Emerick, nephew of former Kentucky and New Mexico State coach Hal Mumme and Mike Leach's longtime chief of staff at Tech, brought a strike-first mentality to Tucson. He urged the Wildcats assistants to evaluate and offer players early in the recruiting process.
The modern approach allows the Wildcats to secure players before slower-to-react schools offer scholarships; as the class grows, players - many of whom know each other - can often aid in recruiting.
"You still have to make informed decisions, you still have to do all your homework … you just have to do it a little faster," Emerick said. "We'll continue to recruit seniors this fall and look at late-bloomers and other players."
When it comes to recruiting, on-field success leads to verbal commitments - which, in turn, lead to even more recruits.
The summer is just the start.
"Getting commitments early in the process is vital in today's recruiting world," Crabtree said. "It helps set the foundation for the entire class."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats on Ryan Finley's blog: go.azstarnet.com/finley
The Arizona Wildcats have already secured 12 verbal commitments for their 2011 recruiting class, a rarity for a program that traditionally strikes later in the year.
Here's a look at Arizona's number of verbal commits as of July 20 over the past seven years:
Arizona's 2011 recruiting class
Pos. Name Height Weight Hometown (last school)
OL Jacob Arzouman 6-3 250 Tucson (Salpointe Catholic HS)
RB Jared Baker 5-9 180 Los Angeles (Loyola HS)
DB Tra'Mayne Bondurant 5-11 185 Fairfield, Calif. (Fairfield HS)
RB Ka'Deem Carey 5-10 180 Tucson (Canyon del Oro HS)
DE Joseph Carter 6-5 250 Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. (Chaffey CC)
TE Michael Cooper 6-5 230 The Woodlands, Texas (The Woodlands HS)
QB Daxx Garman 6-0 175 Southlake, Texas (Carroll HS)
DE Reggie Gilbert 6-3 230 Laveen (Fairfax HS)
LB Rob Hankins 6-1 219 Dallas (Parish Episcopal School)
LB Hank Hobson 6-2 213 Bakersfield, Calif. (Stockdale HS)
LB Jabral Johnson 6-2 218 Lawton, Okla. (Lawton HS)
DB Kerry Swarn 6-2 190 Dallas (Lincoln HS)