2009 Arizona Wildcats Football Preview
2008 Record: (8-5, 5-4)
2008 Bowl: Las Vegas Bowl vs. BYU (W 31-21)
Coach: Mike Stoops (25-34 at Arizona, 25-34 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Sonny Dykes
Defensive Coordinator: Mark Stoops
Other Key Returnees: RB Keola Antolin, C Colin Baxter, DE Ricky Elmore, HB Chris Gronkowski, DT Donald Horton, LB Xavier Kelley, DT Earl Mitchell, CB Devin Ross, WR Terrell Turner
Key Losses: OT Eben Britton, CB Marquis Hundley, G Joe Longacre, LB Adrian McCovy, S Nate Ness, LB Ronnie Palmer, WR Mike Thomas, OT James Tretheway, QB Willie Tuitama
Arizona exceeded most people’s expectations during the 2008 campaign by having a winning conference record and knocking off a really good BYU team in the Las Vegas Bowl. That gives Coach Mike Stoops some more time to build off of last year’s success and continue to turn the corner with the Wildcats football program.
Arizona’s offense won games last year, but it was the play of the defense that made the team so dangerous. And the team returns quite a bit of talent to the unit that ranked a surprising third in the Pac-10 in scoring defense. The strength is on the front line where all four starters return. Brooks Reed tallied a team high eight sacks as a sophomore and is ready to explode onto the national radar. While the opposition worries about Reed, Ricky Elmore will do plenty of damage from the other end. With seniors Donald Horton and Earl Mitchell clogging the middle, it will not be easy for anybody to run against the Wildcats. The play of the front four made it possible for the secondary to excel. And with corner Devin Ross and safety Cam Nelson returning, the secondary should be just as good as it was last year. The biggest concern will be replacing Ronnie Palmer in the middle of the linebacker corps, but at least there are experienced linebackers returning like Xavier Kelley.
How will the offense function without quarterback Willie Tuitama? Last season the signal caller completed nearly 65 percent of his passes and threw for over 3,000 yards. His ability to keep the turnovers down, as seen by his 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions, made the offense extremely explosive. The good news is that the offense should be pretty explosive anyway. Running back Nic Grigsby rushed for 1,153 yards and 13 touchdowns and Keola Antolin had some superb games, ending the campaign with a total of 525 yards and ten trips to the promise land. The playmakers continue with the return of Delashuan Dean and Terrell Turner, but can those two even come close to replacing Mike Thomas? Thomas was one of the most prolific pass catchers and punt returners in school history. Making matters worse is the absence of three starters on the offensive line, most notably tackle Eben Britton.
The Bottom Line for the Wildcats:
The offense should be decent even without Britton, Thomas and Tuitama. But can this group turn into something special without those three? At the least, it will take time. Coach Stoops will not ask much from his new quarterback, but he needs to get some consistent play from somebody. The leading candidate is sophomore Matt Scott who lacks arm strength but can make plays with his feet. The other option would be Nick Foles, a more traditional passer. No matter who plays, Arizona needs their quarterback to be a leader on the field and keep the turnovers to a minimum.
By Joel Welser
Check out all of the 2009 college football previews online through College Sports Fans.
Copyright 2005-2009, CollegeSports-fans.com and the Dash Fans Network of Independent College Sports Fan Sites.