There are obstacles every year, but there seems to be more in the way this offseason than in recent years. Going into the 2011 season, there are a few that stand out above the others.
Adam Hall, Greg Nwoko, and Jake Fischer have all suffered offseason injuries that are going to take them off of the playing field for an extended portion of time. Along with those three, there have been several others who have been banged up and were forced to miss portions of spring ball.
UA's depth is really going to be tested in several areas this season. In an expanded conference that is likely to only get tougher as the season rolls on, the Wildcats are going to need to prove that they have enough on the sidelines to makeup for those who are unable to see the field. If the backups aren't ready or do not fill the void properly, Arizona is going to have a rough time in the Pac-12 in 2011.
Immediately following the conclusion of the season, UA saw a trio of its coordinators – Bill Bedenbaugh, Greg Brown and Mike Tuiasosopo – leave for similar positions at other programs, but Arizona was able to find viable replacements in Robert Anae and Joe Salavea; as well as young potential in former grad assistant in Ryan Walters.
Fans will now wait and see how the players respond to these new coaches on the field. In spring ball, all three new assistants appear to be working quite well with their new players, but regular season college football is an entirely different animal than spring ball. If these players play mediocre football, the criticism will soon follow. But if they play above expectations, the new coaches will gain a lot of confidence within the fan-base.
This is an issue that will be beaten to death until the unit takes the field. There isn't a single returning starter from last season and a large portion of the line is underclassmen that haven't seen the field much, if at all.
It will certainly take some time to gel and UA doesn't get much of a break in the early portion of the schedule. If the linemen can perform well over the first month of the season, there is no reason to believe this will be an area of weakness by season's end.
There may not have been a more scrutinized area of the roster than special teams in 2010. From missed extra points, to muffed punts, to a questionable return game, Arizona found difficulty in a section of the football team that is constantly overlooked. It was tough to ignore for the Wildcats last season though because the issues popped up at the most inopportune times.
UA will have a new punter, new return men and a new challenger to Alex Zendejas for the kicking job. Had special teams sorted itself out in time last season, the Wildcats could have ended up with eight or nine victories instead of seven. The hope is that the changes will makeup for last season's failures.
Without Greg Nwoko, where is Arizona going to turn inside the two yard line? Nwoko struggled in goal line situations, but has the body to drag defenders with him if he runs the ball properly. Now with him out, the only really big option Arizona can use is Taimi Tutogi and he never really saw the ball much in 2010.
UA must figure out just who is going to come through here. Each of its backs are scat-backs with relatively small frames. Keola Antolin has been known to be deceptively powerful, but usually doesn't have to run into a goal-line defense and shouldn't be expected to consistently over the course of a 12-game season. If Arizona can find someone to step up in this situation, the Wildcats should be in much better shape than last season.