Countdown to Kickoff 2009: The Preseason Top 50—No. 45 Arizona Wildcats
Spring practice has wrapped up across the country and we are a little over four months away from kickoff. To make the time go a little faster, I will count down my top 50 teams one team at a time.
No. 46 Arkansas Razorbacks
No. 45 ARIZONA WILDCATS
The public goal for the Wildcats entering the 2008 season was to make the program's first bowl appearance in 10 years. Privately, the goal was to break the streak and save coach Mike Stoops job in the process.
Led by record setting quarterback Willie Tuitama, the Cats made good.
Now, for the first time in four years, Stoops must find a new starter at the quarterback position. Sophomores Matt Scott and Nick Foles are the front-runners for the job, with junior Bryson Beirne fighting for a position.
The prospects are young, but are more mobile and have an understanding of the spread offense.
Scott, who completed 7-of-11 passes for 84 yards in a backup role a year ago, is considered the leading candidate. The speedster is known more as a runner than a passer, but has used the spring to try and change that perception.
The rest of the offense is loaded with veterans. Running backs Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin combined to rush for 1,678 yards and 23 touchdowns last season in a passing offense. Running behind an experienced line in 2009, their production doesn't figure to drop much.
If the Wildcats look to pass the ball, a big target will by Rob Gronkowski, who is among the best in the nation at tight end.
"We have as much talent offensively as we have ever had coming back," Stoops said. "We have playmakers. Our quarterbacks will have to distribute the football like they are capable of doing and not try to do too much and think they have to do it all. They just have to manage our offense."
The Wildcats return the nucleus of its defense, including everybody up front. Stoops is really excited by a linebacking unit that includes Xavier Kelley, Sterling Lewis, and Vuna Tuihalamaka, which has the potential to be one of the best in the Pac-10.
The defensive line is also potentially very dangerous led by pass rushers Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, plus physical tackles in Earl Mitchell and Donald Horton.
Cornerback Devin Ross is a playmaking, man-to-man specialist and strong safety Cam Nelson returns to lead the defensive unit.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Trevin Wade: As a freshman he backed up all-conference cornerback Devin Ross. In that limited role Wade had four interceptions and three pass breakups. This season he will likely be lining up at the corner opposite Ross.
Vaughn Dotsy: He spent his last season as the backup, but this spring, Dotsy—a 6-foot-5, 355-pound former three-star prospect—figures to nail down a starting job.
Vuna Tuihalamaka: He posted 23 tackles last season as the backup to Ronnie Palmer, who led the Wildcats in stops. Expect Tuihalamaka, a senior, to secure a starting job this spring and his tackles total to climb in the fall.
DEJA VU FOR THE CATS?
Mike Stoops and the Wildcats have been here before.
Coming into the 2007 season the team was loaded with veteran players, including a potentially lethal defense that returned 10 legitimate starters.
They flamed out.
"We didn't play worth a darn with a lot of experienced players coming back for whatever reason," Stoops said. "We obviously didn't coach them very well, and we didn't play well. We have learned."
Wildcats fans are hoping they have learned. This season's squad is loaded with veteran players on both sides of the ball, but they will be tested early and often.
The schedule does them no favors. They must travel to Iowa, Oregon State, Washington, Cal, Arizona State, and USC.
NEXT UP: The Big Ten checks in at No. 44. Can this proud program get back to their winning ways?
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