Arizona Preview 2006
Posted Aug 8, 2006

It has taken two years, but the program finally appears ready to rock again now that head coach Mike Stoops has his players in place.

Offense | Defense | Depth Chart | Further Analysis

It has taken two years, but the program finally appears ready to rock again now that head coach Mike Stoops has his players in place.

Youth and inconsistency were the big problems in Stoops' first two seasons, but there was no question the speed and athleticism were upgraded in a big way. Unfortunately, the potential hasn't translated into wins with only four against D-I teams so far. That should change in a big way this season with the excitement coming from one player: quarterback Willie Tuitama. 

A big recruit for the program last year, Tuitama has brought the expectations up to another level just off a few nice performances over the second half of last season. He made plenty of freshman mistakes, and will make plenty as a true sophomore, but he's the type of talent who the program can build around and finally be able to hang punch-for-punch with the rest of the high-octane Pac 10 after averaging a not-getting-the-job-done 18.7 points per game over the last four seasons.

Head coach: Mike Stoops
3rd year: 6-16
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 22, Def. 19, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Wildcat Players
1. CB Antoine Cason, Jr.
2. WR Mike Thomas, Soph.
3. QB Willie Tuitama, Soph.
4. SS Michael Johnson, Sr.
5. LB Spencer Larsen, Jr. 
6. LB Dane Krogstad, Jr.
7. OT Peter Graniello, Jr.
8. WR/KR Syndric Steptoe, Sr.
9. CB Wilrey Fontenot, Jr.
10. DE Marcus Smith, Sr.

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction:

9/2 BYU
9/9 at LSU
9/16 Stephen F. Austin
9/23 USC
9/30 Washington
10/7 at UCLA
10/14 at Stanford
10/21 Oregon State
11/4 at Washington St
11/11 California
11/18 at Oregon
11/25 Arizona State

2005 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2005 Record: 3-8

Preview 2005 predicted wins

9/3 at Utah L 27-24
9/10 No Arizona W 31-12
9/17 Purdue L 31-24
10/1 at California L 28-0
10/8 at USC L 42-21
10/15 Stanford L 20-16
10/22 Oregon L 28-21
10/29 at Oregon St W 29-27
11/5 UCLA W 52-14
11/12 Washington L 38-10
11/25 at Arizona State L 23-20

The tackles are there to give Tuitama time to work, the receiving corps is in place with Mike Thomas, Anthony Johnson, and Syndric Steptoe all fast enough to make big plays, the outlet receivers are there with three good tight ends and an emerging safety valve in fullback Brandon Lopez, and the running game should be more explosive with three lightning-fast prospects. In other words, all the pieces are in place to let the young star shine.

The defense should finally be up-to-snuff with ten starters returning led by a linebacking corps that's finally healthy and should be a rock as the year goes on, and a secondary that boasts All-Pac 10 caliber talents Antoine Cason, Michael Johnson and Wilrey Fontenot. The line is bigger and better now that end Marcus Smith is back after missing almost all of last year, and there's more depth everywhere than the program has had in years. If that wasn't enough, the special teams should be among the best in the nation.

Yes, Stoops has his the horses he needs to succeed with. Now we'll get to see if he can actually coach. It has been seven years since the 12-1 season and the last bowl game, but the slide appears ready to come to a halt. For long-suffering Wildcat fans, they're ready.

The Schedule: There aren't too many tougher September games than at LSU and USC to go along with the opener against a good BYU, but things ease up a bit with the easiest part of the Pac 10 schedule coming in October and early November before playing Cal, at Oregon, and Arizona State. To come up with a winning season, the Wildcats likely have to win two of three road games at UCLA, Stanford and Washington State.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore WR Mike Thomas. Tuitama is the star of the show and the one who needs to rock and roll to get Arizona back to a bowl level, but Thomas is the best player on the offense ... at least for now. Even though he's not all that big at 5-8 and 178 pounds, he's tough and is too quick to contain with just one defender. He's the type of receiver who has to be game-planned around.

Best Defensive Player: Junior CB Antoine Cason. He's in a salary drive this season with the look of a first day draft pick. He hits like a safety and covers as well as any corner in the Pac 10. With good size at 6-0 and 182 pounds and impressive speed, he has all the tools.

Key player to a successful season: Junior RB Chris Henry. Assuming Tuitama is the real deal and will overcome his mistakes with moments of brilliance, Arizona needs more of a running game to balance things out. Henry is a flash of lightning who'll get help from redshirt freshmen Terry Longbons and Xavier Smith looking for more production than the 122 yards per game from last year.

The season will be a success if ... Arizona gets to a bowl game. While there's a ton of experience, next year will be when the Wildcats can reasonably shoot for the Pac 10 title. Considering how hard it has been for the program to win over the last several years, coming up with six-plus wins and getting to a bowl game would be a tremendous step in the Stoops era.

Key game: Oct. 7 at UCLA. This will be a circle game for the Bruins after the 52-14 atomic wedgie applies by the Wildcats last season, but it's a very winnable road game. Arizona can't assume any Pac 10 wins, but after the conference opener against USC, four of the next five games are against teams that didn't go to a bowl game. A win over UCLA could start a solid run.

2005 Fun Stats: 
- Fourth quarter scoring: Opponents 66 - Arizona 23
- Turnovers: Arizona 28 - Opponents 19
Tackles for loss: Opponents 82 - Arizona 59

The Last Time Arizona…
…played in a bowl game…1998 (Holiday Bowl vs. Nebraska)
…missed a bowl game…2005
…pitched a shutout…1996 (Illinois)
…was shutout…2005 (Cal)
…scored 50 points…2005 (UCLA)
…went undefeated…1945
…won a conference title…1993 (share, Pac-10)
…had a 3,000-yard passer…2002 (Jason Johnson)
…had a 1,000-yard rusher…2001 (Clarence Farmer)
…had a 1,000-yard receiver…2002 (Bobby Wade)
…had a first-round draft choice…2000 (RB Trung Canidate)

Related Stories
Arizona Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by  Aug 8, 2006
Arizona Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by  Aug 8, 2006
Arizona Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by  Aug 8, 2006

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