2010 Arizona Preview
Arizona WR Juron Criner
Arizona WR Juron Criner
Posted Jul 21, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Arizona Wildcats

Arizona Wildcats

Preview 2010

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- By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Mike Stoops
7th year: 33-39
Returning Lettermen
Off. 22, Def. 17, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Arizona Players
1. CB Trevin Wade, Jr.
2. DE Ricky Elmore, Sr.
3. RB Nic Grigsby, Sr.
4. C Colin Baxter, Sr.
5. T Adam Grant, Sr.
6. WR Juron Criner, Jr.
7. QB Nick Foles, Jr.
8. DE Brooks Reed, Sr.
9. RB Keola Antolin, Jr.
10. P Keenyn Crier, Sr.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 at Toledo
Sept. 11 Citadel
Sept. 18 Iowa
Sept. 25 California
Oct. 9 Oregon State
Oct. 16 at Washington St
Oct. 23 Washington
Oct. 30 at UCLA
Nov. 6 at Stanford
Nov. 13 USC
Nov. 26 at Oregon
Dec. 2 Arizona State

Arizona has won eight games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 15 years. Maintaining the momentum will require a short memory.

The Wildcats darn near won their first Pac-10 title in 2009, dropping a decisive double-overtime heartbreaker to eventual champ Oregon late in November. They also got waxed a month later by Nebraska, 33-0, in a Holiday Bowl whitewash that knocked the program down a peg or two. The job for Mike Stoops and his reconstructed staff this offseason will be to relocate the confidence that was left on the Qualcomm Stadium grass that dreary Dec. 30 night.

Stoops will have some new hands on deck this fall after offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes left to coach Louisiana Tech and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops took the same position at Florida State. Those are two big losses for the program. Still, even with new faces in new roles, the objectives remain the same.

On offense, Arizona wants to spread the field out and get the ball in the hands of its playmakers, like WR Juron Criner and backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin. Bringing back 10 starters, including QB Nick Foles, gives Seth Littrell and Bill Bedenbaugh a lot to work with. The defense prefers to attack without blitzing and locking down opposing receivers with one of the most athletic defensive backfields this side of Troy. Revamping the interior of the line and the linebackers will be the top priority of Greg Brown and Tim Kish.

After laboring for years, Stoops finally has Arizona out of choppy waters. Now what? In the ultra-competitive Pac-10, the coach hopes to build on last year's regular season, completely forget the postseason, and guide the Wildcats to a third straight bowl game for just the second time in school history.

What to watch for on offense: The continuing development of QB Nick Foles. The Michigan State transfer was beaten out for the starting job by Matt Scott last summer. He got the last laugh, however, taking over in September and going on to throw 19 touchdown passes and earn All-Pac-10 honorable mention. He was just a sophomore at the time, so there's hope that his debut was just the beginning. At 6-5 and 245 pounds, Foles has a great arm, a deep ensemble of receivers, and an even better work ethic. With a little more consistency and a few less mistakes, he's capable of drawing lots of attention from NFL scouts this fall.

What to watch for on defense: The new starting linebackers. How unsettling is the situation at linebacker? The Wildcats could begin the season with a pair of first-year JUCO transfers and a second-year sophomore in the opening day lineup. Plus, the second and third teams will be flush with freshmen. All three starters have graduated, leaving imports Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo, and young Jake Fischer as marked men. Arizona is already looking to replace both starting tackles, so the new linebackers will see loads of action as they clean up messes in run defense. Earls and Vassallo were actually heavily recruited and already participated in spring, which will flatten the learning curve.

The team will be far better if… the team trainer is bored. Over the last couple of seasons, the Wildcats have been besieged by injuries. What would have happened last year if TE Rob Gronkowski, RB Nic Grigsby, DE Brooks Reed, to name just three, didn't miss all or part of 2009? Arizona needs to avoid the injury-bug, especially along both lines, if it's going to compete for a Pac-10 title. One of these years, the program is hoping to see how it stacks up against the rest of the league when it has its full complement of stars.

The Schedule: It's not all that bad mostly because many of the big games are at home. There's a road trip to Oregon in late November and back-to-back away dates against UCLA and Stanford, but after starting out the year at Toledo, which is a must-win or else it'll be an uphill fight to get to a bowl. However, if the Cats get by the Rockets there's a great stretch from September 11th through October 30th with only one road trip and that's to Washington State. That means there must be some big wins at home to come up with a strong year, and the chances will be there with Iowa, Cal, Oregon State, Washington, USC, and the rivalry date against Arizona State all in Tucson.

Best offensive player: Senior RB Nic Grigsby. Yeah, you wouldn't know it from last season, but that was because the former 1,000-yard rusher was limited by a shoulder problem to just 79 carries. Even then, he produced 567 yards and five touchdowns. He's a game-breaker out of the backfield, with the acceleration and vision to take over games on the ground…provided he can play an entire season at full-strength. The staff is keeping its fingers crossed that Grigsby can recapture the form that made him a 2008 all-star.

Best defensive player: Junior CB Trevin Wade. One star cornerback leaves Tucson and another one steps up to take his place. The ‘Cats had Antoine Cason in 2008, Devin Ross in 2009, and now Wade, a returning All-Pac-10 second teamer. Just two years into his amateur career, he already has nine picks, flashing the ball skills and cover skills that make Pac-10 quarterbacks want to avoid his side of the field. He also had 71 tackles a year ago, showing no aversions to lowering his head and supporting in run defense.

Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Dominique Austin or junior Jonathan Hollins. Arizona is in pretty good shape just about everywhere except on the front seven of the defense. More specifically, the Wildcats need some stability in the middle. Earl Mitchell made things happen for the defense last year, a big reason why the team was a surprising 39th nationally versus the run. While Austin and Hollins don't have to necessarily be Mitchell, they do need to occupy blockers and occasionally shoot the gap and make stops behind the line.

The season will be a success if ... the Wildcats bowl for a third consecutive year. Compete for a Pac-10 title? Maybe, but that could be asking too much considering the holes on defense, especially in a league with so much offensive firepower. Arizona needs to stay on the tracks by furthering a winning attitude that now permeates throughout Tucson. With so much talent on the offensive side of the ball, anything less than another postseason invitation will be considered a serious regression.

Key game: Sept. 18 vs. Iowa. Should Arizona be taken seriously on a national scale? The last time it was under the microscope, the program got dressed down by Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. The Wildcats' reputation will again be on the line versus a physical, blue-collar team that'll get after them defensively. Another implosion in this type of a spot could damage the team's psyche over the final three-quarters of the season.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Arizona outscored opponents 105-58 in the first quarter
- Arizona fell just one yard short of 5,000 total yards for the season
- Arizona ranked in the top 10 nationally in both kickoff and punt returns

- 2010 Arizona Preview | 2010 Arizona Offense
- 2010 Arizona Defense | 2010 Arizona Depth Chart
- Arizona Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006