They say if you want to accomplish things in life you need to write them down and set deadlines. Often those deadlines are just pulled out of thin air. But sometimes your self-imposed due date is based on a narrow window of opportunity.
Mike Stoops, this is your window.
The 2010 Arizona Wildcats absolutely need to have a peak football season. Not from a “Win or else” standpoint but more like: “If not now, when?”
It starts with the depth chart. If you scan the two-deep a couple things jump up and scream at you. Of the top ten guys listed on the offensive line seven are seniors. It’s very possible the Cats will be starting seniors at all five O-line positions against Toledo. You can’t get any more now-or-never than that.
Nic Grigsby will be gone after this year and he could be taking some 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns with him. Nick Foles and Juron Criner are juniors but there’s no guarantee one or both of them don’t absolutely dominate this year and go pro early.
Foles’ backup is also significant. Matt Scott surprisingly didn’t transfer so he gives the UA the rare luxury of two upperclassman signal-callers with starting experience. Obviously you never want your #1 guy to get hurt but this wouldn’t be like the Willie-Tuitama-to-Adam-Austin drop-off in 2006.
So the 2011 Arizona offense could be doing a sizable chunk of rebuilding. But that’s OK because the defense is so young, right?
I know it hurts but… Not exactly.
When you look at the defensive line you find another three seniors. Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed have 25 sacks between them and the pass-rushing pair will be very hard to replace.
But wait, you say, what about the five new defensive starters behind them? That has to lower this year’s expectations a bit. Good point. In order to find a Pac-10 champion with an average defense we have to go all the way back to…2009. Oregon was only 4th in the Pac-10 in both scoring defense and total defense last year.
If you’re elite on one side of the ball you can get away with being merely decent on the other side. And if you believe strength along both lines is crucial (and you should) then this is the season you have been waiting for.
Then there’s the rest of the league. It doesn’t do you much good to peak if somebody else peaks higher. The good news is everybody has some question marks.
Oregon’s question mark was visited by the police one too many times and got kicked off the team. With Jeremiah Masoli at quarterback the Ducks wouldn’t just be the runaway pick to repeat as Pac-10 champs, they would be on the short list of national title contenders. Can one guy make that much of a difference? How did Oregon fare after Dennis Dixon went down in 2007? How does the 2009 game in Tucson end with anybody other than Masoli at QB?
Next up is the fall of Troy. Two years ago, after yet another 12-1 season, the question was if anyone else in the league would ever get within shouting distance of USC. But then the Reggie Bush investigation started heating up, Pete Carroll escaped to the NFL, and the NCAA dropped a bomb on Heritage Hall.
USC is a very interesting case from a rooting perspective this year. Every team obviously wants to beat the Trojans but after that you want them to win the rest of their games. They can hang losses on your competition without passing you in the standings or bowl pecking order. How many times do you get to play a season with a really talented team potentially assassinating your rivals without hurting you?
The schedule also works in Arizona’s favor in 2010. The 9th Pac-10 game is at home as are the games against USC and bowl regulars Oregon State and Cal. Iowa represents the highest profile non-conference home game since LSU came to town in 2003. There are going to be a lot of people in the stands which will help keep the big-game atmosphere at Arizona Stadium all season long.
Oh, and there’s the simple math. This is the last year a Pac-10 team only has to be better than nine other teams, since Utah and Colorado are already packing their bags.
It all adds up to tip the scales in the direction of the Wildcats. None of this guarantees anything, but if Mike Stoops has been waiting for the perfect opportunity to put it all together, that opportunity is here.
For Arizona Football, this has to be 1998 because next year could very well be 1999.
So. What exactly does a peak year look like?