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UA coach Stoops aiming for next level

The University of Arizona Wildcats have been to a bowl game for three straight seasons, accomplishing the feat for the first time in the school’s history.

Heading into his eighth season in Tucson, head coach Mike Stoops says the goal is to get to the next level.

“We’re looking to try and make another jump, and that’s been another hard step to get to, to be one of the elite teams in this conference,” he told Sports 620 KTAR.

Stoops said going from good to great is a process that is helped by the school supporting the program.

“You can see, now that [Athletic Director] Greg Byrne is here, what we’re doing…we’ve never had a football facility,” he said. “You have to commit at a very high level if you want to compete at a very high level.”

Stoops is excited about his team’s future, specifically this season.

But, if the team is to grow in the future it must learn from the past. Arizona started last season 7-1 before losing five straight. Stoops said there are a lot of reasons for the team’s late struggles, including the kicking game and an offense that struggled at times.

But Stoops is a defensive coach, and he noted the struggles on that side of the ball too.

“Defensively, we didn’t create any turnovers,” he said. “The Arizona State game, I think we dropped four balls right in our hands, and you can’t win against good football teams if you don’t take advantage of opportunities when they are presented in a game.”

Those chances may come less often this year, as the Wildcats are having to replace quite a few starters from last year’s team, including the entire offensive line and a few defensive ends.

Still, Stoops is confident his team can still be successful.

“We’ll have a defense that’s very, very similar to what we’ve had in the past,” he said. “I think the strength of our defense will be our secondary.

“And if it’s not a strength then we’re going to struggle on defense because these guys are going to have to be playmakers for us.”

One area where Stoops does not appear to be concerned — and really, nor should he be — is on offense, especially at the quarterback position.

Arizona brings back senior Nick Foles, who has established himself as one of the conference’s better passers.

“Anytime you’ve got a guy like that, Juron Criner and the slew of receivers like we do, we’re very confident in what we can do with the football,” he said. “Nick has played well, I think he’s had two good years, I think he can go and have a great year.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him. As good as he is, he’s a great football player and I look for him to have a breakout year.”