Will Arizona continue their streak of three straight bowl games?
By: Athlon Sports | 6/6/11, 1:30 PM EDT
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PAC-12 South PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mik Stoops, 40-45 (7 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Seth Littrell | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tim Kish
Arizona returns its top two quarterbacks, its leading rusher, and receivers who caught 277 passes last season. Yet all is not promising. New offensive line coach Robert Anae, a former offensive coordinator at BYU, went through spring practice introducing his scheme and himself to five new starters. Of the group, only Kyle Quinn, who started the Alamo Bowl, has ever started a college game.
Senior quarterback Nick Foles has started 21 games and thrown 39 touchdown passes in two seasons. Senior Matt Scott, who started briefly in 2009 and ’10, hopes to redshirt.
In the backfield, senior Keola Antolin isn’t an every-down tailback. He has been injured periodically during his career, but he finds a way to produce, gaining over 850 total yards rushing and receiving last year. Freshman Ka’Deem Carey, the most highly rated tailback to sign with UA in the Mike Stoops era, is expected to take about half of the snaps and add a dimension of elusiveness and a big-play potential that has been lacking.
Senior Juron Criner decided against early entry in the NFL Draft and is Arizona’s go-to player. He caught 82 passes for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns but might not be the most talented receiver on the team. Junior Dan Buckner, a transfer from Texas, is explosive and at 6'4", 220, a difficult matchup.
The interior of the line, with sophomores Justin Washington and Sione Tuihalamaka, stacks up well with most Pac-12 teams. Washington has star power. The problem is that defensive ends C.J. Parish and Mohammed Usman have not started a conference game. Parish, in fact, is making the transition from linebacker. Depth at defensive end is strained.
At linebacker, Arizona’s starting threesome of Paul Vassallo, Derek Earls and Jake Fischer was reliable, often outstanding, last season. They were viewed as the strength of the defense until Fischer injured a knee in the spring game. His return is uncertain. None of the linebacker reserves has played a snap in college football.
In the secondary, senior cornerback Trevin Wade, a one-time star-in-the-making, had a dismal junior season but reclaimed his spot in spring practice. The other cornerback spot will be contested between sophomores Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight, both of whom played extensively as true freshmen. The secondary suffered a major loss in April when junior free safety Adam Hall required ACL knee surgery. He might return by October. Sophomore Marquis Flowers takes over at free safety while converted cornerback Robert Golden makes his second move to strong safety.
Arizona will again use senior placekicker Alex Zendejas. He has been unreliable. Junior college transfer Kyle Dugandzic is the starting punter, by default if nothing else. Top returner Bug Wright was dismissed from the team in February. Douglas, a reliable fair-catch man, is likely the punt returner.
Arizona plays anticipated national powers Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon and USC in an early four-week stretch. That’s bad timing for the Wildcats, who will be breaking in five new offensive line starters in September.
The passing game is as skilled as at any time in school history, but the Wildcats have significant worries in the running game and on special teams, and they are thin everywhere on defense.Arizona enters the season on a five-game losing streak and did little in the offseason to suggest that its troubles won’t continue as it enters the Pac-12.