By ANDREW BAGNATO
AP College Football Writer
In each of Mike Stoops' first three seasons at Arizona, the Wildcats have ambushed a Top 25 team in Tucson.
No. 18 Arizona State went down 34-27 in November 2004.
The Wildcats ripped No. 7 UCLA 52-14 in November 2005.
Last November, it was Arizona 24, No. 8 California 20.
The Wildcats will have a chance to pull off another upset on Thursday night, when No. 2 Oregon rolls into Arizona Stadium. The Ducks, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon, are in the hunt for a berth in the Bowl Championship Series title game.
``Playing Oregon, where they are at, it gives you a big stage,'' Stoops said on Monday at his weekly campus news conference. ``The national hype you get because of Dixon being a Heisman Trophy candidate (and) they are pushing for a championship. I think it gives us a chance to show what we are all about too.''
The Wildcats (4-6, 3-4 Pac-10) have won their last two games, quieting speculation that Stoops would be fired at season's end, but they still need to sweep their final two games to have a shot at their first bowl bid since 1998. The Wildcats finish the regular season at No. 9 Arizona State on Dec. 1.
The Oregon game will be the final home game for Arizona's senior class, including cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot and linebacker Spencer Larsen. Arizona is 16-28 over the last four seasons, but Stoops praised his veterans for sticking together.
``They have always played through some tough spots,'' Stoops said. ``You look at all the ranked teams we have beaten in the last two years. There are some big wins. They can be very proud.''
After a shaky start this season, Arizona has found its rhythm on offense and is playing with confidence. The Wildcats aren't likely to be intimidated by the Ducks after pounding them 37-10 last season in Autzen Stadium.
``Our team is playing well right now,'' Stoops said. ``We are playing at home. Our kids played well against them last year and played well against them the last two years. Those are things our kids buy into.''
But this isn't the same Oregon team that Arizona dismantled a year ago. The Ducks (8-1, 5-1) average 42.8 points and 510.5 yards per game, both fifth in the country.
Dixon is an accurate passer and fleet runner, and he presents big problems for an Arizona defense that has had trouble coping with mobile quarterbacks. Dixon, a senior, is playing much better than a year ago, when he threw three interceptions in the loss to the Wildcats.
Oregon took last weekend off after defeating Southern California and Arizona State on consecutive Saturdays in the first two games matching Top 10 opponents in Autzen Stadium history. The time off gave Dixon a chance to rest his sprained knee, which kept him out of most of the fourth quarter against Arizona State on Nov. 3.
``I'm sure with the extra time they will come in with some new wrinkles,'' Stoops said. ``That is the stuff you have to adjust to in the first couple of series. You will see some new things and new formations. It is something we have to adjust to.''
The Wildcats will counter with their own freewheeling offense, which has finally found a groove under first-year coordinator Sonny Dykes. Arizona has scored 82 points in its last two games, and quarterback Willie Tuitama has eight touchdown passes and one interception in that span.
``We don't have anything to lose,'' Stoops said. ``That is how we look at it. We are going to go out and play hard and play loose and do what we have to do.''
Courtesy: ncaafootball.com; Photo Credit: University of Arizona