The nation will be watching Stoops and his Wildcats

Still another validation to Coach Mike Stoops’ ongoing reclamation project with the University of Arizona football program is increased national television exposure.

They’re doing something down there in Tucson that the rest of the country evidently wants to see.

The 2010 UA football season will get unprecedented national exposure, as they have been guaranteed at least five games will be broadcast live on ESPN or ABC.  And now, Pac-10 television partners, Fox Sports and Versus, are free to finalize their TV schedules, now that ESPN and ABC have announced their early dates.  That should happen in early June.

The Wildcats made it to the national airwaves five times last year, but that included an appearance in the Holiday Bowl after the regular season ended.  This year, they’ve got as many scheduled, with more possible, before the season even starts.

The Wildcats’ nationally-televised encounters include games with Iowa, USC, Oregon, Arizona State… and the opener with Toledo (Go figure that one).  That exposure will go south in a hurry if they don’t put up some big numbers against Toledo – and have a good performance against No. 11 Iowa.

The five-game menu puts them among the three Pac-10 schools with the most broadcast dates scheduled at this point.  USC has eight, based more on name recognition and expectations than last year’s disappointing record.  And Oregon, the defending Pac-10 champion, also has five televised dates.

In all, the Pac-10 will have at least 24 games televised on ESPN-ABC next season.

Arizona State will have at least four nationally-televised games, including three conference (Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona) and the non-conference match-up with Wisconsin on Sept. 18.

The Wisconsin game is the third on the ASU schedule and will represent the first real challenge; the Sun Devils will be faced with one of the best offensive lines in the country when they enter Camp Randall Stadium.  The last time the two teams met was in 1968 when ASU embarrassed the Badgers in Tempe, 55-7.  That’s not likely to happen this time.

The Sun Devils should probably be thankful to get the four games, since they are coming off back-to-back losing seasons, finished in ninth place in conference, and not picked to finish 2010 in the top half of the Pac-10.  But head coach, Dennis Erickson, is hoping his new offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone, can breathe some new life into the 4-8 team that sputtered offensively last year.

But in Tucson, Stoops is getting the support that winning brings.   It has been a slow, methodical rise during his six years at the helm, but his 8-5 finishes this year and last year are beginning to put the roar back into the Cats’ game.  The back-to-back eight-win seasons are the first for the school since 1993-94.

The Cats finished their regular season by beating USC, 21-17, the first time Stoops has been able to hang a loss on the Trojans.  The win gave the Cats a 6-3 conference mark and a share of second place.

It also marked another accomplishment; he has now beaten every team in the Pac-10 at least once while in Tucson.

Oh yeah, he also beat ASU in the Territorial Cup this year.  Can’t forget that.

The Cats have been to bowl games the past two seasons, beating BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl in 2008, but losing last year when Nebraska delivered a 33-0 whupping on the Cats.

But now Stoops can put that last game behind him and begin a new season with a team he hopes will get him over the eight-win hump.

And look good on television while they’re do it.