Stealth: Which Pac-10 Team is Flying Under the Radar?

Zach ZarembaCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2009

LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 20:  Devon Ross #6, Nic Grigsby #5 and Nate Ness #32 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrate after the team's 31-21 victory over the Brigham Young University Cougars in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium December 20, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Mike Stoops, Arizona’s very-animated head coach, is entering his sixth season in Tucson.  Stoops has been on the hot seat every year in his tenure and his teams have almost always disappointed.  With the exception being last year’s team that broke a 10-year bowl drought by upsetting BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Stoops’ has always recruited well and last season was a culmination of his talented players, their commitment and understanding of his system, as well as senior quarterback Willie Tuitama’s leadership and poise (Tuitama had been starting since freshman year).

Question: So after all these highly-touted recruits, many returning contributors, and the school’s first bowl appearance in a decade, why are the Arizona Wildcats ranked seventh or eighth in preseason Pac-10 polls?

Answer: Media outlets and opposing coaches look and see a team losing their top passer, who set school records, their top receiver in Mike Thomas, who set a Pac-10 record for receptions, and first round draft pick Eben Britton, who was the team’s best blocker.

Yes, these three players were very valuable to Arizona’s success and will be missed; but Arizona has the pieces in place to have a great season.

Replacing Tuitama will either be dual-threat quarterback Matt Scott, or Michigan State transfer Nick Foles.  Foles is much more of the traditional drop-back style passer, but Scott has been with the Wildcats longer and looked impressive in mop up last season.

In fact, Scott was the team’s third leading rusher gaining just under 200, but averaging an inspiring 8.2 yards per carry.  Both quarterbacks are talented and the offense depends on their productivity.

The winner of this battle will have the surrounding talent to succeed and post great numbers.

Nic Grigsby and Keola Antolin make up the Cats’ two headed rushing monster.  Both players are small and explosive.  Grigsby is especially talented, and is coming off a 1,153 yard and 13 touchdown sophomore campaign.

Even with the loss of Mike Thomas, the Wildcats are loaded at receiver.  Delashaun Dean returns after a solid sophomore season in which Dean posted 593 yards and four touchdowns. 

Senior Terrell Turner also had a strong 2008 season and looks to build on his 580 yard effort.  The Wildcats have an emerging playmaker in William “Bug” Wright.  Wright should start and receiver as well as returning kicks and punts.

Add Rob Gronkowski, one of the nation’s best tight ends, to this trio and the Arizona Wildcats have a very potent passing attack (assuming Scott or Foles can produce and be a productive passer).

The offensive line only returns two starters, but four of the projected starters are upper classmen and have experience in the system.

The defense is also well off.  Seven starters return to a unit that held opponents to just over twenty points and 300 yards a game.

Also, six or seven of the starters are seniors.  This should provide a wealth of experience and knowledge.  Remember Stoops’ is a defensive guy and almost always he produces a solid defense.

The one thorn in the Wildcats’ side is their schedule.  The Pac-10 is projected to produce its best teams in quite a few years with four teams being ranked in preseason polls.  The Wildcats have to travel to Iowa, Oregon State, California, and USC, all top 25 teams.

They also host a top 10 Oregon team, but have had success against the Ducks in the past.

If the Cats’ can persevere and win some road games, this team has the talent, experience and leadership to have a terrific year and build on last year’s success.
Don’t be shocked if this team pulls an upset or two and goes 8-4 or 9-3.