Potentially tough season ahead

Having a successful year is not out of the question for Arizona. However, there are numerous obstacles it is going to have to overcome. Read on to see what those obstacles are and how Arizona can get over them.

Heading into the beginning of the 2011 college football season, there isn't as much optimism in the direction of the Arizona football squad as there has been over the past two off-seasons.

After concluding the season by losing its last five games and getting blown out by each of the top-tier teams they faced down the stretch, the Wildcats have a lot of doubters heading into the campaign.

On the flipside, anything can happen in the world of sports. Nothing ever goes exactly the way the so-called experts draw it out. Arizona has a couple of elite players at key positions and whenever a team possesses such tools, it has a good shot at competing at a high level.

It all starts with the quarterback. At times in 2010, Nick Foles looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the country and he has the numbers to back that up. He is one of the Pac-12's most accurate passers and has a set of receivers that are unmatched in terms of talent by any other squad in the conference.

Foles knows how to get his offense moving and spreads the ball around evenly, which keeps opposing defenses on their heels. He can throw short or deep and has the ability to make extremely quick decisions.

What Foles must do is learn to capitalize inside the red zone. The Wildcats struggled mightily throughout the course of the 2010 campaign inside the opponent's 20-yard line and it ultimately cost UA a couple of games during the season.

Assuming he gets Juron Criner back by the beginning of the season, Foles has several big targets to work with near the goal line so he should have less of a problem putting the ball in the end zone when the opportunity presents itself. If Foles can't lead the offense to an improvement in the red zone, expect Arizona to have trouble winning games against tougher foes just like in 2010.

Foles' main target, Criner, has to make it back in order for UA to stay competitive; that much is obvious. Criner is the Wildcats' only proven deep threat and has been Foles' most reliable weapon since he was inserted at starter. Everyone knows Criner's game, so there isn't much need to explain just why he is a requirement for Arizona's success in 2011.

If he doesn't make it back in time for the start of the season, it will only make an already tough schedule that much more difficult. Even with Criner, UA is going to be tested in a big way over the first month-and-a-half of the season and how the Wildcats come out of that stretch will go a long way in determining how successful of a season they will have.

The offensive line has been another concern throughout the offseason and until the unit proves itself on the field, fans will wonder just how well the offense will perform with a line that hasn't shown anything on the field yet.

The line is essential to the success of any offense no matter what system it runs. If the line gels quickly, UA's offense is most likely going to be a very tough unit for the opposition to stop.

But if the group struggles, the offense is going to have a hard time putting points on the board. Even with a senior quarterback and ridiculously talented group of receivers, if the signal-caller doesn't have ample time to make decisions with the ball in his hands, the offense that is based primarily on the pass is going to struggle to be successful.

The linebackers and secondary have experienced their own fair share of problems the offseason. The linebacking position has been absolutely decimated. It got so bad this offseason that UA was forced to go out and recruit for the 2011 class after Signing Day. While the Wildcats did seem to land a pretty promising JUCO prospect in David Lopez, they still lack depth at the position and one injury will force a true freshman into a starter's role or the coaching staff into calling more nickel packages on defense.

Adam Hall remains a giant question mark. There is little doubt that he will miss a good portion of the season to begin with, but if he can return by mid-campaign and shows he is fully healthy, it will be a big boost. There are players that can pick up the slack for Hall's on-field performance, but what's going to be hard to replace is the emotional impact he has while on the field.

Hall is one of the leaders on defense. That in itself is going to make his injury that much more difficult to overcome. Someone is going to need to step into that role and until that happens, there will be doubters.

Don't let the critics fool you, though. Arizona still has a legit chance to contend for the conference. When you have a senior quarterback with a track record of playing high-level football and set of weapons that serve him well, anything is possible.

It's not going to be easy for the Wildcats in 2011 and a lot of things are going to need to fall into place. Foles must have his best year; Criner must return; the offensive line must grow together rapidly and the defense must find away to overcome the injuries and lack of depth it has experienced.

Many think it's too tough of a task for Mike Stoops and his staff to live up to, but if he wants to curb the criticism he has received this offseason, the best way to do so is by winning a lot of football games in the upcoming campaign.

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