College football countdown: No. 35 Arizona
Article by Matt Hayes
Friday, Jul. 30, 2010 – 3:31 a.m. ET
Sporting News previews the Wildcats as it counts down our preseason top 100 college football teams leading into the season opener on Sept. 2.
Last year: 8-5
2010 projected record: 8-4 (overall), 5-4 (Pac-10)
Quarterback Nick Foles is among 10 starters returning to the Wildcats offense.
Why we know we’re right: Nick Foles emerged as one of the Pac-10′s best quarterbacks last season, developing into a consistent and confident thrower as a first-year starter. The Wildcats return 10 starters on offense, which will offset the loss of offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes (head coach, Louisiana Tech).
Coach Mike Stoops made a smart move in replacing Dykes, promoting position coaches Seth Littrell and Bill Bedenbaugh to co-offensive coordinator spots. Both Littrell and Bedenbaugh worked under Mike Leach at Texas Tech (as did Dykes), and both know the system that has allowed Arizona to become one of the league’s top offenses.
Expect that to continue this season, especially since Stoops kept the quarterbacks coach and play-caller separate jobs when he hired veteran Frank Scelfo to tutor the quarterbacks (Dykes did both).
Why we might be wrong: Too many questions on defense. Even with the league’s best pass rusher (DE Ricky Elmore, 10.5 sacks in 2009), Arizona doesn’t have the experience in the front seven to consistently stop teams. Stoops’ defenses at Kansas State, Oklahoma and Arizona have revolved around aggressive, fast linebackers, and the Wildcats begin this season with three new starters — and two could be junior college transfers.
Our confidence level in this pick: Uneven. The X factor in this season is the last game of last season: How Arizona responds to the 33-0 whitewash by Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. The loss was so bad, some of Foles’ teammates still jokingly kid him about it. Foles is too confident to let one game destroy a season, but Arizona must play well early (season opener at Toledo) to set the tone of the season.
Judgment day: Sept. 18 vs. Iowa. The physical, aggressive Hawkeyes come to Tucson with not only Big Ten championship hopes, but as a sleeper pick by some to possibly reach the BCS national championship game. The UA administration played it smart and kept the game a 7:30 p.m. local start, forcing Iowa to not only deal with the time change (and waiting all day to play), but also playing in the stuffy, steamy Tucson night.
Coach’s job security: Strong. Stoops took a statement season last year and enhanced his status at Arizona. Now that USC will deal with some of the most significant NCAA sanctions in the sport’s history, some conference team — or teams — will fill that void. Stoops can further strengthen his future with a championship season over the next couple of years.
Grading the positions: QB (A-), RB (B+), WR/TE (B+), OL (B), DL (C), LB (D), DB (C), ST (B-).
This story appears in July 29′s edition of Sporting News Today. If you are not receiving Sporting News Today, the only digital sports daily, sign up today.
Matt Hayes covers college football for Sporting News and is an analyst for the NFL Network. Tune in to Total Access weeknights.