By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Mike Stoops' sixth season at Arizona began in strong fashion, as the team collected victories over Central Michigan and Northern Arizona. After a loss on the road to Iowa, the Wildcats clawed out their first
league win of the season by defeating Oregon State on the road, 37-32. Arizona
fell to 1-1 in league action with a tough loss to Washington, but followed
that setback with three straight wins, including an exciting 43-38 decision
over Stanford. Stoops' squad was unable to continue its winning ways as the
team's three-game winning streak came to an end with a 24-16 loss to
California on the road. That loss was followed by a heartbreaking, 44-41
double-overtime setback to eventual Pac-10 champion Oregon at home. Instead of
letting the loss to the Ducks linger, the Wildcats went right back to work and
earned back-to-back road wins over Arizona State (20-17) and USC (21-17),
finishing the regular season with a solid 8-5 overall ledger.
Arizona's hard work paid off as the team earned a spot in the Holiday Bowl
against Nebraska, but the Wildcats fell hard in the postseason, as the
Cornhuskers clobbered coach Stoops' squad, 33-0, sending them home for the
winter with a bitter taste in their mouths.
OFFENSE: The Wildcats were a well balanced machine in 2009, and with a
plethora of starters returning Arizona should once again be a force
Leading the way will be QB Nick Foles, who after transferring from Michigan
State took the starting job away from Matt Scott and promptly threw for 2,486
yards and 19 scores. Scott could see some time on the field this season, but
he is more of a mobile signal caller that can hurt teams with his legs, while
Foles is strictly a pocket passers.
Regardless of who is under center, that quarterback will have a couple of
strong targets to throw to in DeLashaun Dean and Juron Criner. Criner, who
hauled in 45 receptions and nine touchdowns last season, is one of the top
receivers in the conference and could be in for a huge junior campaign.
While most of the attention lands on Foles, and rightfully so, the Wildcats
also possess a very dangerous running back combination in Nic Grigsby and
Keola Antolin. Grigsby is the team's outside burner that can break free for a
long run, while Antolin is more of a between the tackles power back.
DEFENSE: The Wildcats will rely on speed this season defensively and coach
Stoops has two tenacious playmakers at the defensive end spot in Ricky Elmore
and Brooks Reed. Reed led the defense in sacks back in 2008, and Elmore took
that honor last season, so both are proven sack artists. Also look for
D'Aundre Reed or Apaiata Tuihalamaka to move inside to the tackle spot some
times, giving the Wildcats even more speed up front.
The front line will have to play to the best of their abilities, because the
linebacking group is relatively inexperienced. All three starters from last
year are gone, but sophomore Jake Fischer looks to be the most capable of
leading the way at linebacker.
Last season the Wildcats finished third in the Pac-10 against the pass,
allowing 201.5 ypg through the air, and that number should decrease even
further this year with two starters returning and a core of solid talent
filling in as well. Robert Golden is the most valuable player in the secondary
because he is talented enough to play either corner or safety and he will
likely rotate those positions throughout the season.
"That's the good thing about Robert," co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown
said. "He's a versatile guy and he's shown the ability to work at both spots."
Trevin Wade, who collected five interceptions last season will man the
other corner back spot, while highly touted freshman Marquis Flowers will
likely jump right into the free safety spot.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Wildcats are one of those teams that can make things
happen on special teams, due in large part to the return combo of Travis Cobb
and Bug Wright. Cobb, a kick return specialist, is clearly a threat to make a
game-changing play, as is Wright in punt return opportunities. Alex Zendejas
made 17-of-22 field goals a year ago, but the kicker does not possess a very
strong leg, which could be a reason for concern at times.
OUTLOOK: The Wildcats have posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first
time since the late 1990s and with the talent on this year's roster the team
is definitely primed to post another strong season.
"We're deeper and faster than we've ever been," said coach Stoops. "We beat
USC and finished second in the Pac-10. It's a sign that we've been doing
things the right way. It attracts positive attention."
Coach Stoops does have a fully loaded roster, but his troops must not overlook
their season opener at Toledo. Last season the Rockets upended Colorado at
home, and the MAC teams have been shocking some of the BCS conference schools
over the past few seasons. However, that is not the toughest road game on the
season for Arizona, which will have to travel to Eugene late in November to
face Oregon. For the most part the Wildcats have a favorable schedule, landing
California, Oregon State, Washington, USC and Arizona State at home, and if
the Wildcats are able to win at home they should be able to contend for the
Pac-10 title and a chance at the Rose Bowl.