Pac 12

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Arizona Wildcats

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 8-5, 6-3
Bowl Game: Holiday Bowl (L 33-0 vs. Nebraska)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: T-2nd Pac-10
Offensive rank: 58
Defensive rank: 25

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Keola Antolin, 637 yards, 4 TD; Nic Grigsby, 567 yards, 5 TD
Passing: Nick Foles, 2,486 yards, 19 TD, 9 INT
Receiving: Juron Criner, 582 yards, 9 TD; Terrell Turner, 458 yards, 4 TD
Tackles: MDevin Ross, 81 total tackles
Sacks: Ricky Elmore, 10.5 sacks (10 solo, 1 assisted)
Interceptions: Trevin Wade, 5 interceptions (1 touchdown)

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2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 18 vs. Iowa: This was a big matchup last season as well. Had the Wildcats grabbed this one it would have put them at 3-0 entering conference play. With two winnable matchups to begin the season, another shot at the Hawkeyes before they embark on their Pac-10 schedule would give Arizona confidence as they attempt to secure the Pac-10 title they came so close to last season.

September 25 vs. California: The Wildcats surprised more than a few around the college football world when they took down USC in both teams' regular season finale last season. Arizona, as a dark horse team in a very strong Pac-10, may again look at this matchup or the Oregon game the following week as their key to upsetting and shocking a lot of fans on the West coast.

December 2 vs. Arizona State: If the Wildcats are able to surprise the conference, and pretty much everybody around the football world, by leading the Pac-10 race with just one contest to go, they may reach December in control of their own destiny with just bitter rival Arizona State standing between them and the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils would love nothing more than to vanquish Arizona's hopes of winning the conference and earning a trip to Pasadena, and it won't matter who looks better on paper or who's won more games.

Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)

AP: N/A

Coaches': N/A

Key Losses

Terrell Turner, WR; Mike Diaz, OT; Earl Mitchell, DT; Xavier Kelly, LB; Devin Ross, CB; Cam Nelson, S

Key Returning Players

Nick Foles, QB; Nic Grigsby, RB; Juron Criner, WR; Adam Grant, OT; Colin Baxter, C; Ricky Elmore, DE; Brooks Reed, DE; Trevin Wade, CB

Offensive Overview

For the first time in a while, the Wildcats can say they return one of the Pac-10's top offenses. While they ranked sixth in the conference in total offense, the Wildcats return most of their skill position players including a quarterback who emerged unexpectedly last season as one of the conference's top men under center. Nick Foles led the Wildcats to a spot in the Holiday Bowl after taking over for Matt Scott as Arizona entered conference play. Nevertheless, while this is Foles job to lose, Scott gives the Wildcats a great second option should Foles get hurt or falter. Foles is a pocket passer with Scott a dual threat quarterback who could actually see a little more playing time this season than some think.

Several skill players return to the offense for 2010 including leading rushers Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin. The duo combined to score nine rushing touchdowns and will again share backfield duties once again. Grigsby was plagued with injuries last season and some have even suggested sitting Grigsby with Antolin capable of handling the load. With Grigsby healthy and a big part of the offense, that scenario seems extremely unlikely.

The depth at wide receiver took a hit with the suspension and eventual dismissal of Delashaun Dean and the graduation of second leading receiver Terrell Turner. However, leading receiver Juron Carter returns, as does Travis Cobb, David Douglas, David Roberts, Terrance Miller, etc. Even with depth at quarterback, running back and wide receiver, many consider the key to this offense's success to be an experienced offensive line. Center Colin Baxter and tackle Adam Grant were all-Pac-10 selections last season.

Defensive Overview

The defensive line will be the strength of the defense with ends Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed leading the way. Elmore quietly recorded 10.5 sacks last season, good third in the conference. An effective pass rush will help an already strong secondary in stopping offenses in a pass-happy Pac-10 conference. Cornerback Trevin Wade leads the secondary after a five interception, 71 tackle season in 2009. Robert Golden will return at strong safety. Cornerback Marcus Benjamin and safety Joe Perkins are slated to replace the departed Devin Ross and Cam Nelson at corner and free safety, respectively.

All three linebackers must be replaced this season. Junior college transfers Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls will be expected to contribute right away, while Jake Fischer is atop the depth chart at the strong side linebacker spot. With great expectations on the defensive line and in the secondary, added pressure is on the linebackers to make this defense a formidable one in the Pac-10.

Special Teams Overview

Alex Zendejas hit 17 of his 22 field goal attempts and missed three of his 41 extra point attempts. He hit a 32 yarder as time expired to beat Arizona State in Tempe and will give the Wildcats an experienced, reliable kicker this season. Punter Kennyn Crier averaged 41.5 yards per punt last season and will return to assume punting duties once more in 2010. In the return game, William 'Bug' Wright led the team with an average of 17.5 yards per punt return on 12 attempts and even took one back for a score. Travis Cobb led all returners with an average of 25.4 yards per return and also scored a touchdown.

Head Coach: Mike Stoops

Mike Stoops took over at Arizona for the 2004 season. While he failed to eclipse the .500 mark in his first four seasons, he's taken the Wildcats to two straight 8-5 seasons and two consecutive bowl games including a 2008 Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU. Entering his seventh season as head coach, Stoops has built Arizona into a formidable player in a tight Pac-10. With USC faltering of late and sanctions recently levied against them, an opportunity awaits for others to establish themselves within the conference and maybe grab a conference title or two with USC down. Stoops has survived the 'hot seat' early in his tenure at Arizona to put the Wildcats in a good position to make a run at a conference title.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Nic Grigsby, RB; Colin Baxter, C; Ricky Elmore, DE; Brooks Reed, DE

Season Prediction

5th Pac-10

Arizona defines dark horse in the Pac-10 this year. Washington returns a lot of offensive power this season, but Arizona does, too. Oregon is without starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, but shouldn't suffer too much with Nate Costa and Darron Thomas ready to handle the duties under center. Other quarterbacks around the conference (Matt Barkley, Andrew Luck, Jake Locker) have gotten more hype and publicity, but Nick Foles is a leader who now has a year of experience to go along with his impressive intangibles. Skill players are everywhere on the offense making finding playmakers a non-issue as we approach the start of the season.

The defense, with just four starters returning, presents the most question marks for the Wildcats. All three starting linebackers from last year's squad are gone, leaving possible gaps in the second level of defense. The pass rush should be among the top in the Pac-10, however, and a talented secondary will only benefit from pressure on the opposing quarterback. Don't bet the farm on Arizona making their first trip to the Rose Bowl. Just don't count them out and don't look too surprised if they make a run. Gary Randazzo of WildcatSportsReport.com presents an excellent case for the Wildcats this season. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.