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2007 Arizona Preview

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jun 25, 2007


Arizona has yet to turn the corner under head coach Mike Stoops, but with a new high-octane offense (at least, that's the hope) and ten starters back on defense, led by all-star corner Antoine Cason, the Wildcats might finally be a Pac 10 player.

Arizona Wildcats

Preview 200
7


By Richard Cirminiello  
  

- 2007 Arizona Offense Preview | 2007 Arizona Defense Preview
-
2007 Arizona Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Arizona Preview 


The Wildcats may be on the brink of a breakthrough season…again.  Everything seemed to line up for last year to be the Cats’ coming out party under Mike Stoops, but a slow start and a painfully futile offense abruptly lowered the bar in a disappointing, bowl-less 6-6 campaign.  However, with many starters back from that team and a slightly softer non-conference schedule, the glass may still be half-full in Tucson in 2007.

Head coach: Mike Stoops
4th year: 12-22
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 22, Def. 19, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Wildcat Players
1. CB Antoine Cason, Sr.
2.
LB Spencer Larsen, Sr.
3. DE Louis Holmes, Sr.
4. WR Mike Thomas, Jr.
5. OT Eben Britton, Soph.
6. CB Wilrey Fontenot, Sr.
7. LB Ronnie Palmer, Jr.
8. QB Willie Tuitama, Jr.
9. OT Peter Graniello, Sr.
10. DT Lionel Dotson, Sr.

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
5-7

Sept. 1

at BYU

Sept. 8

Northern Arizona

Sept. 15

New Mexico

Sept. 22

at California

Sept. 29

Washington State

Oct. 6

at Oregon State

Oct. 13

at USC

Oct. 20

Stanford

Oct. 27

at Washington

Nov. 3

UCLA

Nov. 15

Oregon

Dec 1

at Arizona State

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
5-7
2006 Record:
6-6
Preview 2006 predicted wins

9/2 BYU W 16-13
9/9 at LSU L 45-3
9/16 S F. Austin W 28-10
9/23 USC L 20-3
9/30 Washington L 21-10
10/7 at UCLA L 27-7
10/14 at Stanford W 20-7
10/21 Oregon State L 17-10
11/4 at Wash St W 27-17
11/11 California W 24-20
11/18 at Oregon W 37-10
11/25 Arizona State L 28-14

In an attempt to address the Wildcats’ problems on offense, Stoops initiated a modest off-season shakeup, replacing coordinator Mike Canales with Sonny Dykes, one of the architects of Texas Tech’s high-octane passing attack the last two seasons.  Dykes doesn’t have the personnel to be a miracle worker right out of the gate, but he should provide a new energy and some fresh ideas for a unit that clearly lacked an identity or a spark last fall.     

Wasn’t it just last year that quarterback Willie Tuitama was the new face of the Wildcats and a messiah for the feeble offense?  In many ways, he became a microcosm of the unfulfilled expectations of the program, rarely getting enough time to throw and suffering multiple concussions that put his future in jeopardy.  Tuitama enters the upcoming season as a giant X factor, gifted enough to flourish in Dykes’ new offense, yet besieged by health concerns and a questionable supporting cast.

The defense will be stingy enough that any offensive improvement should get the program that coveted seventh win.  It’s Stoops’ fourth season in the desert, and the table is once again set for the Wildcats to end their near decade-long postseason drought.  Anything less will be a tangible setback for a school that can ill afford to spend another season stuck in neutral.

What to watch for on offense: Arizona knows that if it can solve its complex offensive riddle, it’s a first-division Pac-10 team in 2007.  That’s easier said than done, considering Tuitama is fragile, the line was overmatched last year and top back Chris Henry left early for the NFL, just when he began showing signs of potential.  It’s no wonder Dykes plans to install his playbook at a very conservative pace.  When it’s fully implemented, the system will be part Texas Tech, employing four or more wideouts, and part BYU, which relies more heavily on tight ends and backs.

What to watch for on defense:
The optimism for the season ahead begins right here.  Despite spending an inordinate amount of time on the field in 2006, the unit played inspired defense, creating 26 turnovers and allowing fewer than 20 points a game.  With ten starters back, it could be even better in 2007.  Antoine Cason is a next-level cornerback, combining with speedy Wilrey Fontenot to allow the Wildcats to take more gambles on blitzes.  After scratching the surface of his massive potential, 6-6, 270-pound end Louis Holmes is in store for a monster senior year. 

The team will be far better if …the offensive line can create more daylight for the backs, while keeping Tuitama healthy for all 12 games.  This offense doesn’t have the playmakers to do an about-face, but even marginal progress could swing a couple of close games to the win column.  It all begins up front with a line that returns five starters and has decent building blocks in tackles Peter Graniello and Eben Britton.

The Schedule: The road schedule is brutal. Starting off at BYU is no picnic, and the Wildcats have Pac-10 away games against Cal, Oregon State, USC, Washington and Arizona State, including a tough four-week stretch facing the Bears, Beavers and Trojans. The non-conference schedule isn’t that bad, with home dates against Northern Arizona and New Mexico after going to Provo. Facing UCLA and Oregon in back-to-back November home games will help.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Michael Thomas.  Arizona’s smallest receiver is also its biggest offensive playmaker, a 5-8 jitterbug with the jets to turn short slants into long gains.  Thomas, who’s caught 50 passes in each of his first two seasons, should see his production spike now that Dykes is bringing the spread offense to the desert.          

Best Defensive Player: Senior CB Antoine Cason.  The senior returns as one of the nation’s premier cover corners, and is a preseason favorite to corral the Thorpe Award and All-America honors.  An instinctive pass defender with fluid moves, he can neutralize any receiver at this level, often forcing opposing quarterbacks to completely ignore his side of the field.      

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Willie Tuitama. Having not yet lived up to all the hype and expectations, Tuitama needs to start producing on a more consistent basis. Last season Arizona was 107th in the nation in passing efficiency and 94th in overall passing production. Tuitama has to stay healthy and must make everyone around him better for the Wildcats to finally get over the hump.

The season will be a success if ... the Wildcats go to a bowl. Can the great 12-1 1998 season really be the last time the program had a winning season and went to a bowl game? After being a mega-disappointment over the last eight years, Arizona needs to use all of its experience and talent to finally get back on a winning track. If not, the Stoops era could come to a crashing halt.

Key game: Sept. 29 vs. Washington State. The high-powered Cougars lost to the Wildcats in Pullman last year to start an ugly three-game slide that cost them a bowl bid. This year, Arizona needs the win in this one home oasis during a four-game stretch, going to Cal before and Oregon State and USC after.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- Fourth down conversions: Arizona 10 of 15 (67%); Opponents 1 of 10 (10%)
- Sacks: Arizona 15 for 99 yards; Opponents 31 for 249 yards
- Fumbles: Arizona 20 (lost 5); Opponents 34 (lost 13)

  

Related Stories
2007 Arizona Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 25, 2007
2007 Arizona Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 25, 2007
2007 Arizona Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 25, 2007








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