Juron Criner

Can Juron Criner do a lot of this in 2010?
Photo by Brad Allis/WildcatSportsReport.com

We are just one work week away from the return of Arizona Wildcat football.

The goal is at least nine wins in 2010. Here are the questions that need to be answered in order to get there:

Can Mike Stoops find happiness in a stranger’s house?

Toledo isn’t expected to do much this year but a victory over the Rockets would be Mike Stoops’ best non-conference road win since, well…ever.

It’s true. Stoops and the Cats have gone oh-for-the-road in non-league match-ups. 2005 Utah, 2006 LSU, 2007 BYU, 2008 New Mexico and 2009 Iowa. Three of those teams went on to win 11 games. Four of them won bowl games. I’ll bet you can guess which one of these things is not like the others.

Toledo will be a lot closer to New Mexico than LSU so if Stoops is going to break through on the road, the time is now. (That’s a definite theme this year.)

Are four heads better than two?

It has been well-documented that the UA will be breaking in two sets of co-coordinators. On defense any changes may be hard to spot (especially with Mike Stoops still calling the shots) but the play-calling on offense will be out there for everyone to see. Will Seth Littrell (also the running backs coach) and Bill Bedenbaugh (O-line coach) emphasize the run game more than Sonny Dykes?

In the first couple games what gets called might not be as important as how quickly it gets called. Wildcat fans will painfully recall the rough start to the Mike Canales era at the beginning of Stoops’ tenure. Arizona seemed to spend more time calling timeouts and accepting delay of game penalties than running actual plays. How long will it take Littrell to adjust to the speed of the game as a rookie play-caller?

Can the offense beat a full-court press?

In Nick Foles’ first three starts last year he completed 75% of his passes with averages of 35 completions and 351 yards a game. Over his final seven starts those numbers dropped to a 57% completion rate with 21 completions and 190 yards per game. What happened? Starting with UCLA the opposing defenses said, “You know what, Mr. Accurate Long-Haired Guy? We’re not going to let you pick us apart with short passes.” Defensive backs played press coverage and Foles and the Arizona receivers never could completely adjust.

The big need for 2010 is the emergence of a legitimate deep threat. What made Mike Thomas so dangerous was he could beat you on a quick throw but we would blow by you on the outside if you played him too close. The Cats need to find a receiver with a little Money in him.

Juron Criner beat USC with a long-ball. Can he do it on a consistent basis? Is either Bug Wright or Travis Cobb ready to do something with their speed other than terrorize the WSU special teams? The difference between a good offense and an elite one could depend on it.

Will Arizona see red in the zone?

If you aren’t going to be able to hit a home run on every possession you have to be able to convert in the red zone. In 2008 the Wildcats had GRONK! through the air (10 touchdowns) and the Grigsby/Antolin combo on the ground (23 rushing TDs). All three of those guys were injured in ’09 and the offense took a step backwards.

What will be this year’s strategy inside the opponent’s 20? Pound it behind the big offensive line to see if Grigs and Ant can recapture their paydirt-finding glory (with some Nwoko mixed in)? Throw the fade in the corner to Criner? Establish a new threat over the middle? Taimi Tutogi as a one-man wrecking crew was an option but he’s been out all of camp with an injury. Whatever the plan, the goal is to put Alex Zendejas to work on extra points instead of field goals.

Are the new linebackers just inexperienced or are they really bad?

Shifting to the defensive side of the ball all eyes will be on JC transfers Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo, and true sophomore (and local kid) Jake Fischer. Can the brand new linebacking corp cut it?

The good news is the new LBs don’t have to be stars. The three seniors on the D-line need to be stars. Trevin Wade needs to be a star. The linebackers don’t have to Ricky Hunley, Byron Evans and Lance Briggs. They just need to know their assignments, be in position, and make tackles.

If they can’t? It might be the “Kish of Death” for this year’s team.

Will the secondary produce Golden Flowers?

If you get past the veteran line and the rookie ‘backers you end up with Wade and the Question Marks. Robert Golden is playing a new position. Seniors Anthony Wilcox and Joe Perkins are listed as the safety starters but they have nary a start between them. Their backups are true freshman Marquis Flowers and true sophomore Adam Hall.

It’s understandable if Wildcat fans are having nightmares of receivers running free downfield while the guys in red and blue point fingers at each other. And that brings us too…

Are we in for shootouts at the UA Corral?

The Stanford and Oregon games last year were the best of times and the worst of times for the Arizona faithful. The offense looked like an unstoppable force. The defense looked unable to a force a stop.

In 2007 the Cats broke the 45-point barrier in three different games for the first time since 1983. Dykes did it again in 2008. The last time Arizona scored 45+ four times in the same season? 1954, when Art Luppino was running wild for Coach Warren Woodson.

If that record falls in 2010 Wildcat fans are in for a wild ride. If that record needs to fall in order to keep the games close Wildcat fans will be sick.

The answers are coming and you only have to survive one more week of work before we get there.

No question about it.