Pac-10 Q&A: Arizona coach Mike Stoops

The path is clear for Arizona to do something it's never done: Play in the Rose Bowl.

All it needs to do is win its next three games, starting with a visit from No. 11 Oregon on Saturday.

Coach Mike Stoops has built a competitive program. Where the Wildcats once were on the receiving end of routine whippings, they haven't lost by more than 10 points since Oct. 6, 2007.

He led them to their first bowl game -- and bowl victory -- in a decade last year.

Now, what's next? Is it the 2010 Rose Bowl?

And are the Wildcats built to last?

We checked in with Stoops on these and other topics.

No more deflected passes and you guys will be fine.

Mike Stoops: (Laughs) We've kind of invented ways to lose games, I guess. Those were unfortunate incidents but we put ourselves in situations where one play can decide a game. We didn't do what we needed to win, that's for sure.

How's your brother Bob holding up with all those injury issues at Oklahoma?

MS: I think he's doing great, when you look at the big picture and see what they've done. They're a couple of plays away from being in the championship again. They've played really well defensively. I think offensively they've struggled with some injuries and continuity. But I think he's energetic and feels really good about his team heading down the stretch.

How's Rob Gronkowski doing?

MS: Rob is improving. He hasn't had any setbacks. The process continues to move forward. He hasn't run on the ground yet. He's run in the hydro-pools. He's got one more check-up, I think next week, before he can [run on the ground]. Hopefully, he'll be cleared to continue to rehab.

What role do you plan to play in his decision on whether to come back next year or enter the NFL draft?

MS: I think you just present the case for staying in school and what the benefits are and also the benefits for coming out. I think you leave that decision to him. You have to factor in a lot of things with that decision. His family will be the most important thing. I think he feels comfortable with our team and where we are at, too, the quarterback situation. I'm sure there will be a lot of things to factor in. His health and how he feels his rehab is going, as well.

You guys have taken a step forward as a program these past two seasons: Are you feeling that when you're on the road recruiting?

MS: I think so. Anytime you can get into bowl games, that's significant to players. Obviously, we've been through those hard times of re-establishing your program. Hopefully, we're through all those growing pains you have to go through when you're rebuilding. We're in a much better place, stability-wise.

I know your focus is on preparation, just like any week, but can you feel any increased energy in Tucson with Oregon coming to town, with the stakes so big and ESPN's "College GameDay" there?

MS: Big games just have that feel about them. It's no different here in Tucson. I think the people are really excited for it. I think it will be an energized crowd. Now whether we can be as loud as [Oregon's] Autzen Stadium, I don't know. We're going to try.

Last year's game with Oregon had two very different halves. What went wrong in the first half and went right in the second half?

MS: I think just our focus and intensity. I think defense is about attitude. It's about playing with a lot of energy. When you play these guys, you better bring it every snap because they put a lot of pressure on you, every single play. Our discipline and our energy and our focus wasn't want it needed to be [in the first half].

How did quarterback Nick Foles react this week to the first adversity of his career?

MS: Nick doesn't change much. That's a great thing about him. Win or lose, no matter the situation, whether he plays good he plays badly, he never really changes his perspective. That's good. He's very even. He just goes out and tries to get better every time he steps on the field and focuses on the moment in that particular day. He really works hard at trying to become a more complete player. That's the thing I probably respect the most about him.

So, do boosters and fans let you know how much it would mean to get the Wildcats to their first Rose Bowl?

MS: I've heard that for six years now [laughs]. I think you know the sense of urgency for that to happen. Winning championship takes a great deal of good fortune and good breaks, but you also have to have a very complete team. We just haven't been fortunate enough up to this point. Now, here we are. Hopefully, we can get a step closer on Saturday.

You undertook a tough rebuilding project and now things are trending up. How close do you feel this program is to becoming a perennial Pac-10 contender?

MS: I think we're close. I think we're a really good team. If you look at our games over the last couple of years, we are within minutes or three or four plays. In virtually every loss, we had a great opportunity to win. I feel like we are very close. We are much more consistent. I think our players, once you get over the hump, they start to feel that confidence that we can play with anybody now that we've done it for an extended period of time. You can't just hope it. You've got to really believe that you can do it. I think our players are there mentally now.