The 2010 season for Arizona was virtually two different campaigns for the Wildcats. Early in the season, UA thought it had emerged as a Rose Bowl contender and even cracked the national rankings as a top-10 team.
Then the second half came, Arizona completely fell apart and the Wildcats finished with a sub-.500 record in Pac-10 play. It didn't take a football expert to see that UA was a completely different team in November than it was in September. Sure, Arizona played a much tougher schedule and then struggled towards the end of the season, but the progress UA seemingly made should have prevented such a monumental collapse.
The Wildcats lost to two teams they defeated on the road the year prior – Arizona State and USC – and were blown out by two teams that they were either competitive with or beat the year before – Stanford and Oregon.
Many will argue that Arizona lost its identity. A team that dominated on the defensive side of the ball couldn't stop anyone that possessed an offense with a pulse by season's end. On the offensive side of the ball, UA was still able to move the ball, but putting points on the board became a very big problem, especially when the offense moved into the red zone.
With the 2011 season several months away, Arizona has a chance to get back on the right track. What the Wildcats must do is find their identity and embrace it.
On the offensive side of the ball, it's pretty evident what the strength of this team will be. With a senior quarterback, a wide receiver with first-round potential and one of the strongest receiving corps in the nation, it is obvious that this team would benefit greatly from airing the ball out early and often in each game.
Quarterback Nick Foles is coming off a season of ups and downs. His numbers certainly indicate he had a strong 2010 campaign, but the team's struggles inside the red zone and inability to put points on the board consistently against stronger teams show that there was a lot of room for improvement.
He will have the best group of receivers in the Pac-10 to work with, so that should help elevate his game to the highest level possible. Juron Criner passed up the opportunity to be drafted in the first couple of rounds to come back for his senior campaign. The conference's best quarterback-receiver tandem will get another year to prove just how good it is.
They will also get plenty of support around them. Adding to the group is Dan Buckner, who will finally get to show Arizona fans how talented he is after sitting out a season due to his transfer from Texas. Buckner was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school that made an early impact on a squad that made the BCS championship game.
Criner will pair with Buckner on the field and could potentially become the best wide receiver duo in the conference. The two provide plenty of size and athleticism and will be a nightmare for any opposing secondary to match up with.
UA possesses plenty of depth at receiver. Both David Roberts and David Douglas figure to factor in throughout the season. Each player has been a reliable target for Foles each of the past two seasons and that will likely be the case once again.
You can also factor Richard Morrison and Terrence Miller into the equation. Both players saw the field more as the season progressed and each flashed plenty of potential. Miller emerged as one of Foles' favorite targets by the end of the season while Morrison took on a role offensively that was filled previously by Bug Wright.
Adding to the depth are the three redshirt freshmen from 2010. Tyler Slavin nearly saw the field early in the season due to injuries, but the players ahead of him regained their health. At 6-foot-2, 190-pounds, Slavin brings prototypical size to the receiving position in the spread.
Austin Hill is another player that could work his way onto the field. He was solid in fall camp a season ago and could make an impact down the road. While depth would most likely have to be diminished in order for Hill to see the field, once he does get his chance he has the tools to make a pretty big impact.
Garic Wharton will see the field in some fashion. It could very well be at receiver, but if it isn't, his role could come on kick and punt returns. Wharton is quick and has blazing speed. If he picks up the return game quickly, he could make a pretty big impact on the 2011 season.
Incoming freshmen Patrick Onwuasor and David Richards add to the talent level and depth, but both will likely redshirt in 2011.
Foles also has a pretty solid tight end in Jack Baucus to throw to and Baucus should only improve. He was used in a limited role as a redshirt freshman in 2010, but given UA's struggles in the red zone a season ago, Baucus' size could be very useful around the goal line.
There isn't much question that Arizona's strong suit on offense will be its passing attack. Despite the team's late-season shortcomings, the passing game was able to move the ball when it wanted to. Sure, UA must find a way to run the ball and with highly-touted running back KaDeem Carey coming in to a pretty deep, but mostly unproven backfield, Arizona will likely implement its running attack into its offense carefully.
But make no mistake about it, if the Wildcats are going to win enough games to challenge for the Pac-12 South, they will have to do it by airing the ball out. With an entirely new offensive line and a rushing attack that has as a many questions as it does answers, UA needs to utilize its strength until everything else sorts itself out on the offensive side of the ball. Considering everything Arizona has to work with at receiver, it would be surprising to see it take any other approach.
UA's identity could be on offense
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