New Orleans or bust
Arizona has eyes on prize but must get past Lions first
Posted: Wednesday August 11, 1999 10:38 AM
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- With the opener against Penn State 22 days away, the Arizona Wildcats gathered in Camp Cochise Friday for a football season of unlimited possibilities.
With 15 starters returning from last season's 12-1 team, Arizona is the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-10 title and a first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl. The Wildcats could even wind up somewhere better -- the national championship game in the Sugar Bowl.
But first things first, the Wildcats are saying.
"When we get to camp, last year is gone," said senior linebacker DaShon Polk. "We can't even dwell on what we did, when we did it, or who did it. That is over. We've just got to come back with a whole new focus."
Nine starters are back on defense, led by all-conference linebacker Marcus Bell. Among those returning on offense are quarterbacks Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins, running back Trung Canidate and wide receiver Dennis Northcutt.
Coach Dick Tomey said Friday he believes this group will not be carried away by all the early attention.
"The players are confident, and we have the chance to be a really good team," he said. "But we can't take anything for granted. Even with so many new players, it's never the same. They are realistic about how hard it is to win in college football. They don't have any delusions."
In training camp at Cochise Community College in the border town of Douglas, the first priority will be trying to establish the team chemistry that was so evident a year ago, when the Wildcats capped their big season with a Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska.
That feeling may be tough to recreate, despite so many returning players, Tomey said.
"If you had exactly the same players back, it's still not the same," he said. "We won a national basketball championship several years ago and had the exact players back the next year and it wasn't the same team. There wasn't the same interaction. There wasn't the same chemistry. It's never the same. You just have to do the work. You're trying to build a team. You can't assume those things are going to happen because some guy went through it before."
Tomey's two-quarterback system is old news by now. He employed it all of last season, although by the end, Keith Smith was seeing more playing time than Ortege Jenkins.
"We are fortunate to have as good a situation as anyone in the country. Keith and O.J. are exceptional people with outstanding ability. They both deserve a chance, and beyond that we'll see what happens," Tomey said. "Keith's a senior and if it's close, he would get the nod, but I would do the same at any position."
Smith and Jenkins said they are used to the arrangement.
"If I produce, I'll play. If he produces, he'll play," Smith said. "I was surprised how well it worked out. Hopefully, it can work the same this year."
Jenkins, a junior who spent 12 days in the off-season working out with quarterback expert Homer Smith in Alabama, where he threw 300 to 500 passes a day, said he's glad that the quarterback situation is a given now, so he won't be peppered with questions about it so much.
"We know the situation. We've been here long enough. We're both veteran quarterbacks," Jenkins said, "so I think it's going to be the most relaxed that it's been in the last couple of years."
Smith, a fifth-year senior, said he is ready for the rigors of Camp Cochise and the challenge of providing the leadership the team needs.
"I'm bringing all my stuff. I'm bringing a TV, a VCR, a down comforter. It's not going to be too bad," he said. "It's really good for us. It's all basically football. It gets us ready for the season. ... We need the senior leaders to step up and take the place of Kelvin Eafon, Mike Lucky, Jeremy McDaniel, all of those guys. I think we have some guys who can do that. Our senior class is loaded this year, and the guys want to go out on top and win a lot of ball games."
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