College Football Rankings 2011: 5 Reasons Arizona Did Not Crack Anyone's Top 25
Despite returning what will likely end up as the most-prolific quarterback-to-receiver combination in Arizona history—Nick Foles to Juron Criner—Mike Stoops' program was unable to muster any believers from those college football rankings experts in the know.
And unfortunately for the Wildcats, it really does appear that there is nothing stable outside of Foles, Criner—both potential first-round NFL draft picks—a deep receiving crew and a talented secondary.
There are question marks dotting the field everywhere else, making it difficult to disagree with those prognosticators, even with the propensity of many of those talking-and-typing heads to snub the Pac-12.
Here are the five main reasons Arizona failed to crack anyone's preseason top 25 college football rankings (note: The first AP rankings do not come out until Oct. 9).
(Remember, people: This piece is based on the observations of one writer who is a lifelong follower of University of Arizona sports, an unabashedly biased view point. The experts on Arizona football—those who follow it closely on a day-in, day-out basis and have access to the program's key figures—include: Ryan Finley, Greg Hansen and Patrick Finley of the Arizona Daily Star, Anthony Gimino and staff ofTucsonCitizen.com, Jody Oehler of 1490-AM Tucson and the crews of the Wildcat Sports Report and GOAZCATS.com, among others. Most of the opinions formed in this writer's articles and slideshows are gleaned off the hard information provided by those sources. Expect them to be linked to often. Read/listen to them all.)
A Brutal Rash of Offseason Knee Injuries
Free safety Adam Hall was the emerging superstar of Arizona's defense.
Standing 6'4" and 215 pounds, Hall's speed-plus-tenacity combination transformed him into one of the conference's ferocious hitters (just ask Oregon's LaMichael James, who took the brunt of one of Hall's blasts in the video above).
But during spring practice, as the junior-to-be out of Tucson's Palo Verde High School was working himself into a crucial role as one of the unit's leaders, he came down awkwardly while breaking up a pass and tore his ACL, ending his 2011 campaign before it started.
As the spring scrimmage started to wrap up a few weeks later, starting linebacker Jake Fischer, a high-energy, high-intensity tackling machine from his strong-side slot, also tore his ACL, leaving Arizona without two key members of the defensive scheme.
According to Ryan Finley of the Arizona Daily Star, with Fischer and Hall out of the lineup indefinitely and with an extremely thin linebacking crew, Arizona may adjust by playing more nickel packages, exploiting one of the squad's few areas of depth—the defensive secondary.
The final blow to that side of the ball came when Willie Mobley, a rotation regular on the defensive line, blew out his knee playing hoops at the campus rec center.
But it was not just the defense that sustained the pain.
Running back Greg Nwoko, a bruiser out of the backfield, also blew out his ACL, leaving Arizona without one of its short-yardage options.
Nwoko was likely to see a significant role in the offense given that the only other proven back on the roster is starter Keola Antolin, a diminutive speedster who is unlikely to carry the ball 20 times per contest every week.
That's the misery of what could've been.
Add those four to the mix and this team is sniffing the lower portion of everyone's top 25.
A Weak Recruiting Haul
Mike Stoops made something of a name for himself in his rugged early years at Arizona by compiling strong recruiting classes based on the promise of what he was building the program into—selling the future while the present was a mess.
But now that Arizona seems to be on solid footing as one of the mid-to-upper tier teams in the conference, all of a sudden the recruiting seems to have taken a significant drop in caliber, falling towards the back end of the Pac-12 in overall class ranking.
It stagnated this year in particular, after an above-average haul in 2010.
The only player from this class who appears to have star potential in a position of immediate need on the offensive side is Ka'Deem Carey, an electrifying running back who played his high school ball at powerhouse Canyon del Oro in the Tucson area.
Buried in deep Southern Arizona, Carey did not garner an adequate amount of national love on the recruiting circuit. He owns the potential to become one of the top backs in school history.
However, after Carey, whose uncle is former Arizona-and-Denver Broncos star wideout Vance Johnson (pictured), there does not appear to be much to plug into the offense right now.
Seeing as how Arizona's linebacking corps is depth challenged, these two are on track for early playing time with decent showings in the next few weeks.
Domonique Petties would also be on this list, but he failed to qualify academically.
The Most Infamous Kicker in School History Is Still the Kicker
Alex Zendejas blew it, piling an extra helping of misery on a season that quickly went the way of Pauly Shore's career in 2011—a place so hideous, it hurt your guts to watch.
Not that Arizona followers need a reminder of the agony, but here's a quick refresher for you masochists in the crowd:
With a chance to beat Arizona State last December, Alex Zendejas—who is the latest in a long line of star placekickers from the Zendejas family—did everything wrong.
Trailing 20-14 late in the fourth, Nick Foles orchestrated a long drive into the end zone with 33 seconds left to tie the contest.
All Zendejas needed to do was tap in an extra point and watch the defense hold off ASU's desperation heaves with time dwindling for Arizona to claim victory.
Instead, Zendejas hit a line drive straight at the players in front of him, resulting in a blocked kick that ended up forcing the game into overtime.
In the overtime session, he forever etched his name in shame.
Trailing 30-29, Zendejas lined up for the game-tying extra point only to shank another one straight into the players in front of him, this time costing Arizona the game.
Oh yeah, and earlier in the contest, he doubled as the punter and crushed one a whopping zero yards.
In the most important game of last-and-every season (the ASU game), Zendejas pulled one of the all-time chokes of any Arizona kicker.
And he's back again.
An Entirely New Offensive Line
The most valuable member of the entire roster will be in constant danger unless a young, inexperienced offensive line with five new starters immediately jells into a solid unit.
Nick Foles' best attribute is not his speed.
In fact, that is one of the few aspects the 6'5", 240-pound senior does not have in his arsenal.
And it appears as though the guys given early shots at claiming slots on that line are not living up to expectations.
Stoops took sophomore Jack Baucus out of his tight end slot and moved him to guard earlier this week to add depth to that crew, according to the Arizona Daily Star.
And there is an outside chance that he could immediately start.
Be afraid. This is the most glaring weakness of all.
Riding a Long String of Losses Straight into a Mean Schedule
Arizona lost five-straight games to end 2010-11 after winning seven of eight to open the season, including a blowout loss to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
A season that held extreme promise until Week 9 completely collapsed over the next two months.
That winless skid will come to a merciful end on September 3, when Arizona hosts Northern Arizona, the state's third-largest university and the perennial whipping boy for U of A and ASU.
After facing the Lumberjacks, however, Arizona's schedule becomes a mine field of high-caliber bowl game shoo-ins.
There is a September 8 road game at Oklahoma State followed by back-to-back home contests against Top 10 teams in Stanford and Oregon before travelling to Los Angeles to take on USC.
That sounds like a nightmare scenario for a fragile team with many question marks.
After what should be a throttling of NAU, Arizona would likely be thrilled with a split of the next four. But four-straight losses could devolve into a damning meltdown.
However, if they are 3-2 exiting that stretch, Arizona is set up nicely for a relatively weak second-half slate, making a re-entrance into everyone's top 25 a very real possibility.