Arizona Football: Nick Foles and the 7 Wildcats with All-Pac-12 Potential

Casey CroweFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2011

Arizona Football: Nick Foles and the 7 Wildcats with All-Pac-12 Potential

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    Kirk Herbstreit loves him some Nick Foles.

    In his annual Herbie Awards, Foles, Arizona's quarterback, was listed No. 1 in the country in his "Rodney Dangerfield" section, for those players who do not get enough respect.

    And Herbstreit also named Foles the fifth-best QB in the nation overall.

    The list of reasons Foles is considered one of America's top college QBs runs thick:

    High-powered arm? Check.

    Pinpoint accuracy? Yes.

    A deep receiving corps to aim at? It's maybe the best from top to bottom in Arizona history.

    If Arizona's offensive line, which consists of five brand new starters, can keep Foles upright for the duration of the season, he'll post absurd numbers on stat sheets en route to becoming a possible first-round NFL selection.

    Although the odds are stacked against him becoming the first-team selection on the All-Pac-12 squad with Andrew Luck still in the conference, Foles can fill one of the second or third team slots if he can rival the seasons of USC's Matt Barkley or Oregon's Darron Thomas.

    Come inside to see which other Arizona stars own All-Pac-12 potential: 

Juron Criner, Senior, Wide Receiver

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    Juron Criner's offseason was riddled by rumor, speculation reaching the point where his future with Arizona became murky, with several sources saying there was a possibility of him missing 2011 altogether.

    They were all so wrong.

    Criner is back in effect and he is possibly the most complete receiver in Arizona history, the owner of a rare combination of size (6'4"), soft hands and exceptional speed (4.52).

    According to Herbstreit's "Catch A Rising Star" category, Criner is the fifth-best receiver in the country.

    The Las Vegas native went off for 1,233 yards and 11 touchdowns on 82 catches in 2010, emerging onto the scene in a hurry.

    He was a first-team All-Pac-10 pick in 2010, and there is no reason to believe he will not be able to match those numbers yet again this year.

    If Criner lives up to those considerable expectations, a high NFL-draft slot awaits his selection.

Trevin Wade, Senior, Cornerback

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    Trevin Wade's sophomore campaign was extremely sharp, as the agile cover-man took down an Arizona-best five picks in 2009, his debut year as a full-time starter.

    That was impressive enough to make it onto the Jim Thorpe preseason watch list, ranking the nation's top 35 defensive backs, before 2010.

    Then he immediately went through a disaster of a year in which he was not even the best corner on his own roster.

    According to this piece from Ryan Finley of the Arizona Daily Star,  Wade was dealing with a deep thigh bruise for the bulk of the season, along with having academic issues (namely, a major he hated) weighing on his mind, all leading to broken confidence.

    But that negative momentum finally appears to be shifting back in the other direction, a positive development for the 5'11", 190 pounder.

    If able to rediscover his 2009 form, Wade will find himself among the premier defensive backs in the conference, maybe the country. 

Robert Golden, Senior, Free Safety

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    Robert Golden was a major recruiting coup back in 2008 when Mike Stoops snatched the Fresno, California-area product away from Dennis Erickson and the hated Sun Devils.

    Although not necessarily a ball-hawk (he owns three career interceptions), Golden's coverage skills are strong and he began to show signs of becoming a heavy hitter in the Arizona defensive backfield last year.

    Originally brought in as a corner, Golden made the shift to safety, a wise position change. 

    If he is able to become more of a threat as a playmaker rather than just a solid player in coverage and a sure tackler, Golden certainly owns the skill set to make his way onto the All-Pac-12 squad.

    He is already an NFL-caliber player with his mouth, with his love of trash talk well-documented.

    If his level of play can catch up with that aspect, Golden will be one of the best safeties in the conference. 

Justin Washington, Sophomore, Defensive Line

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    Justin Washington was surrounded on all sides by NFL talent in his collegiate debut season.

    Joining him on the line were Brooks Reed, Ricky Elmore and D'Aundre Reed, all of whom were taken in the NFL draft in April.

    Now the 6'2", 280-pound sophomore is the anchor of that suddenly inexperienced line.

    Even with those high-profile guys playing right next to him, Washington still made a name for himself from his defensive tackle slot, racking up 46 tackles, including 11.5 tackles for loss, along with six sacks and a blocked kick.

    Those totals were impressive enough to be named a Freshman All-American.

    If he can duplicate those numbers, he will own an All-Pac-12 slot.

Dan Buckner, Junior, Wide Receiver

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    Among the most high-profile transfers of the Stoops era, and perhaps in Arizona history overall, Buckner, who came over from the Texas Longhorns last year, is the total package at wide receiver.

    At 6'4" and 220 pounds, Buckner is a physical specimen of a pass catcher and he will ensure that Juron Criner does not see double teams.

    In 2009, Buckner snared 45 passes for 442 yards as a member of a Texas team that went to the national championship.

    Then he got into trouble with the law and fled Austin in favor of Tucson.

    Here's what he told ESPN about that situation and how it changed his outlook:

    "I got into some trouble and made some bad decisions like a lot of people do. I needed a change. I needed to get out of there," Buckner said. "I think it was a blessing in disguise. I feel like it humbled me. I've seen things in life that I may not have seen."

    If the opposition decides to gang up on either Criner or Buckner, Foles will target the other side of the field.

    And that could spell huge plays and equally huge numbers for either of them.

    As far as receiving tandems are concerned, Criner/Buckner is one of the best in the conference.

Nick Foles, Senior, Quarterback

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    If Foles is able to continue on the trajectory of the last two seasons, the 6'5", 240-pound Austin, Texas product, by way of Michigan State, will end up as the greatest quarterback ever produced at Arizona...not to heap on the pressure or anything.

    The statistics last season were impressive:

    • In 2010, Foles threw for 3,191 yards, a 67.1-percent completion rate, 20 touchdowns and he compiled a 140.9 passer rating, all despite missing two games due to a knee injury
    • Against Oregon, the eventual national runner-up, Foles totaled 448 yards through the air and three touchdowns
    • With the exception of the Washington State contest, in which he was injured, Foles never threw for less than 200 yards and he threw at least one touchdown pass against everyone he faced, except Wazzu  

    Now, with a baby-faced offensive line, Foles is going to get an opportunity to throw the ball upwards of 50 times per game, according to Mike Stoops.

    The Arizona Daily Star's Ryan Finley did the math to project the possibilities if Arizona's star QB is indeed allowed to unleash that onslaught of passes:

    "If Stoops' vow holds true, and Foles throws 50 times a game, his numbers project to between 4,000 and 4,400 yards—depending on whether the Cats play in a bowl—which would be a UA single-season record. Willie Tuitama set the mark with 3,683 yards in 2007."

    If not for Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley, Foles would be a shoo-in as the conference's elite QB. 

    Even with those guys around, if Foles continues the improvement of the last two seasons, there is a serious shot at him claiming an All-Pac-12 slot.

Shaquille Richardson, Sophomore, Cornerback

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    A prime recruit for UCLA originally, an off-the-field transgression cost Richardson his Bruins career as he was busted for theft, along with two other players arrested for stealing a bag from a locker.

    But after arriving in Tucson with a fresh start, Richardson immediately became a factor in the Arizona defensive backfield, playing in every game last year as a freshman.

    And he showed off a flair for the dramatic, picking off two interceptions and breaking up three other passes in his first-ever start, a win over Washington State in Pullman.

    That was good enough to claim the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week nod. 

    Expect his role to increase majorly in 2011 as he becomes a full-time starter.

    If he can continue to produce like he did at Wazzu, Richardson will have a serious shot at an All-Pac-12 slot in just his second season.