Wildcats hope to play spoiler to Ducks' national title dreams
West Virginia loves the Arizona Wildcats. But not as much as Kansas does. Or Missouri. Heck, the entire Big 12 is head over heels for Arizona this week.
But no place loves Arizona more than Oklahoma, where a little brotherly love could go a long way toward elevating the Sooners into the national title game. This fraternal Hallmark card, of course, would be a gift from Arizona coach Mike Stoops to big bro Bob on Thursday night when the Wildcats take on No. 2 Oregon in Tucson (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).
A couple of weeks back, OU coach Bob Stoops pointed out during his weekly media chat that brother Mike's Wildcats had won in Oregon's fearsome Autzen Stadium in 2006 -- dominated 37-10, in fact -- so why couldn't Arizona pull another upset and eliminate the chief obstacle impeding the eventual Big 12 champion from playing for the national title?Considering that Oregon and Oklahoma have played three times since 2004 -- the Sooners winning twice, the Ducks once in highly controversial fashion -- let's just say there are certainly grounds for the Stoops brothers to talk shop this week. "Shoot, I'm just trying to help myself, help our kids," said Mike Stoops, downplaying the fraternal angle. "There's a lot of people pulling for us there are a lot of teams that need help." That's just one of the many reasons this Pac-10 tilt feels heftier than the nearly two-touchdown mismatch that oddsmakers believe it to be. Beyond BCS implications, there's the Heisman Trophy race, which many now believe is Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon's to lose. Dixon is the nation's fourth-rated passer, and the dual-threat QB leads an offense averaging 511 yards and nearly 43 points per game -- numbers compiled without the benefit of a schedule padded with directional schools and I-AA patsies. That certainly gets an opponent's attention, particularly an opposing defense looking to distinguish itself on a national stage. "It would be great to ruin his Heisman Trophy campaign and to knock off the No. 2 team in the country -- that's something you dream about," Arizona senior linebacker Spencer Larsen said. "But they're going to have a chip on their shoulders. I'm sure they're confused about what happened last year, and they are going to come in here wanting revenge." Therein lies another source of pregame tension. Larsen counts last year's win over the Ducks as one of the highlights of his career. For Dixon and his teammates, it was a decided embarrassment. The Ducks turned the ball over six times, including three Dixon interceptions, and surrendered 230 yards rushing in a white-flag effort against one of the nation's worst running teams. It became the second loss of a dreary four-game Oregon slide that was capped by a humiliating 38-8 defeat to BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl. That spiral into the muck was lowlighted by Dixon's benching and teamwide dissension. "Last year, we had a lot of finger-pointing on the team," Dixon said. "It's kind of hard to win games when you've got finger-pointing." Suffice it to say that game functioned differently for Arizona. It was the Wildcats' third consecutive conference victory and fourth in five games, and it seemed to presage great things for 2007, despite a season-ending loss to rival Arizona State.