Pac 12

2010 College Football Preview: Arizona Wildcats

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2009 Record: 8-5 (6-3 in Pac-10)
2009 Bowl: Holiday Bowl (lost to Nebraska 33-0)
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Mike Stoops (33-39 at Arizona, 23-29 in Pac-10)
Non-Conference Schedule: at Toledo (9/3), Citadel (9/11), Iowa (9/18)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 27.4 points per game (5th in Pac-10)
Rushing Yards/Game: 159 (5th in Pac-10)
Passing Yards/Game: 225 (3rd in Pac-10)
Total Yards/Game: 384 (6th in Pac-10)

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 23.9 points per game (5th in Pac-10)
Rushing Yards/Game: 120 (4th in Pac-10)
Passing Yards/Game: 201 (3rd in Pac-10)
Total Yards/Game: 322 (2nd in Pac-10)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.08 per game (8th in Pac-10)
Penalties: 43 yards per game (1st in Pac-10, 16th in Nation)

Returning Starters
Offense: 8
Defense: 4
Kicker/Punter: 2

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Nick Foles, Jr (257 of 400 for 2465 yds, 19 TD, 9 INT, 205 ypg)
Rushing: RB Keola Antolin, Jr (114 carries for 638 yds, 4 TD, 5.6 ypc, 49 ypg)
Rushing: RB Nic Grigsby, Sr (79 carries for 567 yds, 5 TD, 7.1 ypc, 56 ypg
Receiving: WR Juron Criner, Jr (45 rec, 581 yds, 9 TD, 3.5 rec/game)
Receiving: WR David Roberts, Jr (43 rec, 410 yds, 1 TD, 3.3 rec/game)
Receiving: WR Delashaun Dean, Sr (42 rec, 396 yds, 2 TD, 3.2 rec/game)
Tackles: CB Trevin Wade, Jr (71)
Sacks: DE Ricky Elmore, Sr (10.5)
Interceptions: CB Trevin Wade, Jr (5)

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #38
Phil Steele #25
Pre-Snap Read: #46
Sporting News: #35

2010 Pre-Season Pac-10 Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #5
Phil Steele: #3 (tie with California)

Bowl Predictions:
Athlon Sports: Sun Bowl (vs. North Carolina)
Phil Steele: Holiday Bowl (vs. Texas Tech)

Arizona quietly finished in a tie for second in the Pac-10 last year. Their biggest loss in conference was an 8 point loss to California and they posted good wins against Oregon State, Stanford and USC. Unfortunately, Arizona finished the season by getting blown out by Nebraska 33-0. Maybe after that long break thinking about that game they will come back with a vengeance in the wide open Pac-10. We talked to Gary Randazzo of the Wildcat Sports Report to find out what he thought about Arizona's chances in 2010.

What are the biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses of the Wildcats?

Strengths: Pick an offensive unit and a case can be made for its strength. Arizona’s quarterback situation is the best it’s been since Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins used a two-quarterback system to help Arizona (11-1) finish No. 5 in the final AP Poll in 1998. It’s taken co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh nearly four years to develop depth among his big uglies, but the hard work and patience has paid off in back-to-back bowl seasons. The OL is poised to really shine in 2010, especially with 6’6, 325-pound Adam Grant earning a sixth year of eligibility and returning 1st Team Pac-10 center Colin Baxter leading the way. The Arizona running backs are incredibly experienced and feature versatility with speed backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin opposite two bruising tailbacks in Greg Nwoko (6’2 228 lbs.) and Taimi Tutogi (6’1 258 lbs.). The wide receiver unit is also strong despite the loss of senior receiver Delashaun Dean for the season (violation of team rule). Juron Criner has the skills to be among the top Pac-10 wide outs, and he’ll be surrounded by other talented pass catchers in William “Bug” Wright, David Roberts, Travis Cobb and transfer Gino Crump. The offensive talent doesn’t stop there, though. Last season, Wright led the Pac-10 with a 17.5 average on punt returns while Cobb finished second in the conference to Stanford’s Chris Owusu (31.5) in kickoff returns with an average of 25.4 per return. Add in Alex Zendejas’ 17-of-22 on field goals with a long of 47, plus a game-winner against rival Arizona State and the special teams unit should also be strong.

Weaknesses: It’s easy to point to the linebacker unit as a weakness, but JUCO transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo each had very strong spring camps, which diminished some of the worry the Arizona coaching staff had in losing all three starters from last year’s squad. The real mystery lies within the Arizona secondary. Longtime Arizona starters Devin Ross, Cam Nelson and nickel back Corey Hall are gone to graduation. Despite returning a host of athletes with playing experience, the combination of a pass-happy Pac-10 with quality quarterbacks, Arizona’s new secondary coach Greg Brown, and overall youth will pose a challenge for the Arizona secondary. If the unit, led by the talented Trevin Wade, holds up, then the sky could be the limit for the Wildcats in 2010-11. However, if Arizona can’t get off the field on third-and-long (something they struggled with in 2009-10), then Arizona could be looking at a lot of 35-31 losses.

Arizona has a date against Big Ten contender Iowa in the third game of the year. Iowa is a Top 15 team in most preseason polls. What do you hope to learn about Arizona in this game and what do you view as a successful outing?

A successful outing would be an Arizona victory. The Wildcats are 14-5 at home the last three seasons, and four of those losses came to Top 25 teams. That being said, a victory over Iowa won’t come easy. The Hawkeyes physically dominated Arizona in Iowa City last year at the beginning of the year. Arizona was again physically dominated by Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl to conclude its season. Arizona will need to match Iowa’s intensity along the line of scrimmage and win the battle of the trenches. If they get pushed around again, it won’t bode well for the Wildcats in later games against physical teams like Oregon State, Stanford, USC and Oregon. However, if they match or best Iowa’s toughness and pull out a win it could be the jumping-off point for a magical season.

What team on the schedule do you want to beat the most?

The easy answer is every game is as important as the last. However, Mike Stoops came to Arizona with one thing in mind; beat USC. Stoops modeled many of Arizona’s philosophies around those adopted by the Trojans. After losing 49-9 against USC in Stoops’ first season as head coach (2004), the Wildcats slowly but surely began to narrow the losing margin to the Men of Troy (21, 17, 7 and 7) before finally knocking off the Trojans 21-17 in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last year. This season’s November 13 home date against USC is a huge game for Arizona, but admittedly will lose some of its shine if the Wildcats struggle through September and October games. USC aside, the biggest game on the calendar every year for Arizona is against its arch-rival, ASU. The Territorial Cup is the oldest traveling trophy, but more importantly, the rivalry is often recognized as the most hated in the country. The love-loss between these schools is literally non-existent and falling to the Sun Devils to conclude its regular season on December 2 would be absolutely devastating to all things Arizona.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

Defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka (6’2, 280 lbs. redshirt freshman) and free safety Adam Hall (6’4, 210 lbs. sophomore). Tuihalamaka is incredibly skilled as a down lineman and will have the opportunity to serve as an anchor along the line of scrimmage alongside Lolamana Mikaele (projected starter at nose tackle). The Wildcats have extremely talented defensive ends in Ricky Elmore, Brooks Reed, and DE back-ups Apaiata Tuihalamake and De’Aundre Reed. It will be a priority for opposing offenses to contain Arizona’s ends, which could free up Tuihalamaka to go one-on-one in the middle. If he plays well, fans will know his name in due time. Another promising player is Hall. Hall has the makings of a great defensive back. He’s big, explosive, and can run with the wind. The Wildcats have had some big hitters from the safety positions throughout their history and Hall has the potential to become the next great safety in Arizona lore. What’s significant of Hall is he’s a local Tucson product that fans are pining to see in down and distance situations.

Who is the best player on the team?

Cornerback Trevin Wade is a pure talent and will undoubtedly follow 2007-08 Thorpe Award winner Antoine Cason into the NFL. Receiver Juron Criner is another future NFL product that has all the tools, especially size and a knack for making the “big” play. However, the best player on the team is center Colin Baxter who is a stabilizing force in the middle of Arizona’s offensive line.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach its full capability?

Arizona’s down linemen will be asked to clog the middle for Arizona’s defensive line, allowing their talented ends to operate one-on-one on the edges and make plays in the backfield. Offensively, quarterback Nick Foles needs to have a big season for Arizona to reach its full potential. After exploding onto the scene in starts against Oregon State, Washington and Stanford, Foles’ incredibly hot start tapered off. Foles is a “gamer” and with 10 starts under his belt, a true QB coach in Frank Scelfo now working with him, and a full offseason of repetitions, Foles has the potential to take things to the next level this season.

Who is the top newcomer that can make an impact this year?

It’s a four horse race between Derek Earls, Paul Vassallo, Willie Mobley and true freshman defensive back Marquis Flowers. All should make an impact on some level, but since the first two names mentioned are projected starters the onus is on them to make a serious impact in the middle of Arizona’s defense.

Who is your pick to take the Pac-10 this year and are there any teams flying under the radar that might be able to make a run at the Pac-10 championship?

The Pac-10 is wide open, but Oregon appears to be the team to beat despite losing its quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. The Ducks return 16 starters (8 offense/8 defense) and feature one element across its entire roster that wins football games in the Pac-10; speed, speed, speed. The one thing that could derail the Ducks though is a five-game conference road schedule and NOT having Masoli. Masoli made some incredibly clutch plays for the Ducks en route to last year’s Rose Bowl and it’ll be up to their new quarterback to find ways to make plays when they matter most.

In regards to an “under the radar” team to win the conference championship, Arizona can get it done. Honestly, I wouldn’t consider Arizona an under the radar team, but ever since the Wildcats were picked to finish 5th by the Pac-10 media, they suddenly qualify. Arizona’s offense will put up points, and it’s difficult to ever underestimate a Mike Stoops-coached defense. Co-defensive coordinator Tim Kish is an excellent strategist and new defensive backs coach and fellow defensive coordinate Greg Brown plans to introduce some new, more aggressive schemes to Arizona’s traditional Cover 2 defense. If the stars align, defensively, Arizona is potent enough in other areas (offense and special teams) to make a serious run. Also, consider that Arizona only has four conference road games and one of those is against Washington State and this year could become the year of the Wildcat.

Gut feeling on the team’s final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

Truth be told, Arizona always seems to find a way to muck up a good situation. By way of example, a critical missed field goal and Oregon’s ability to convert in third-and-fourth-and long situations against Arizona in Tucson last season ultimately cost the Wildcats the Rose Bowl. The same could easily happen again this season, especially if Arizona’s back seven struggles against Pac-10 QBs not named Jake Locker, Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. 9-3 seems to be a fair final record, but things can go south quick with a bad loss to Iowa. However, a win over Iowa would likely give Arizona its first perfect non-conference record under Stoops (assuming victories over Toledo and The Citadel) and could set the tone for a very strong campaign that exceeds expectations.

For all things Arizona Wildcats, please visit for 24/7 team coverage and recruiting news.

Previous Pac-10 Previews:
Arizona State Sun Devils 
California Golden Bears
Oregon Ducks
Oregon State Beavers
Stanford Cardinal
UCLA Bruins
USC Trojans
Washington Huskies
Washington State Cougars

Next Up: North Carolina State Wolfpack

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Sun Belt- FIU Golden Panthers, North Texas Mean Green, Troy Trojans
WAC- Boise State Broncos, Fresno State Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, New Mexico State Aggies