1—Pulling Willie Tuitama's red shirt. Hands down this is the biggest and best thing to happen to Arizona Football in 2005. The decision to pull the young quarterback's red shirt year led to other great things for the program. Not only did it instantly improve the program on the field but it led to big things off the field for the program, namely in recruiting.
2—The commitments of JUCO defensive linemen Louis Holmes and Gabe Long. For years the Cats have been among the worst programs when it came to depth along the defensive line. When Arizona got commitments from big time line players for one reason or another the players never really panned out. Long and Holmes bring instant credibility to the Cats line in 2006 and the depth along the line should be, for the first time since 1998, good enough to take the Cats to a good bowl game.
3—The 52-14 drubbing of then #5 UCLA. This was the program's biggest win since the 1998 Holiday Bowl and it was made possible by the pulling of Tuitama's red shirt. Offensively and defensively the Cats showed what they are capable of if they could find consistency. The game finally brought some national recognition back to the program and was the lead story on many sportscasts for two days. This win also helped in recruiting as it let high school players, especially those in California, know that the Arizona program is definitely on the rise.
4—T'N'T leads Arizona to a road win in Corvallis. The dynamic freshman duo of Willie Tuitama and Mike Thomas showed its potential in this key road win. The road trip to Corvallis was Tuitama's first career start and he and Thomas hooked up four times for over 160 yards and one score. This game also served as the coming out party for strong safety Michael Johnson. It was also Johnson's first start and he shined as he picked off three Beaver passes and took one to the house for a touchdown.
5—The hiring of Josh Heupel. Even though he was only in Tucson for the 2005 season, his coaching impact was surely felt. Under his watch Arizona's tight ends corps again became a force to reckon with for the first time since Mike Lucky and Brandon Manumaleuna were in town. Junior Brad Wood led the squad in touchdown catches with six and freshman Travis Bell came on as the year went on and finished with two touchdown grabs. Added to the offensive production the tight ends were relied on as key blockers on the edge and they did their job well. Seal blocks by the tight ends helped spring Mike Bell on some of his biggest runs on the year, including a great block by Wood to spring Bell's long touchdown run against Oregon.
6—The commitments of DeLaShaun Dean and Terrell Reese. With Tuitama firmly entrenched as the Arizona starter for year's to come the Wildcats needed to add great depth to the wide receiver corps and they did just that, in just one day. Dean visited during the December 9th weekend and Reese visited for the Oregon game but they both made their verbal commitments on the same day on December 11th. Both are taller than 6-foot-3 inches and both can really run. The Cats already have a small speed burner in Thomas and now they have the big go-to guys on the outside in Reese and Dean. Both four star receivers pointed out Tuitama's emergence as a main reason for their commitments.
7—The December 9th recruiting weekend. The Wildcats hosted 16 official visitors on that weekend and it has paid huge dividends already. Louis Holmes, DeLaShaun Dean, D'Aundre Reed and JUCO All-American offensive lineman James Tretheway all visited and all committed. The coaching staff also hosted a few other big time recruits that they now sit in a very good position to land. 5-star cornerback Devin Ross, 4-star offensive lineman Jovon Hayes and 3-star wide receiver Terrell Turner all have the Cats at or near the top of their lists.
8—December 21st, early entrant signing day. The Cat coaching staff targeted two main positions in their JUCO recruiting and they signed their top targets at their biggest areas of need. Louis Holmes, Gabe Long and James Tretheway is potentially the most important early signing day class in Arizona history. Needing a replacement for Senior DE Copeland Bryan the coaching staff went hard after the consensus top JUCO target in Holmes and they got their man. Defensive tackle is always an area of great need and they got their top target again in Long. Always needing solid girth and strength for the offensive line the coaching staff signed 1st team JUCO All-American James Tretheway to fill the need.
9—Signing the Class of 2005. If it wasn't for other big time events later in the year this would be near or at the top of the list. The signing class of 2005 included a few immediate impact guys and included many future stars in the making. Willie Tuitama, Mike Thomas, Adrian McCovy, Michael Johnson and Michael Shelton are names that Wildcat fans got to know early and often in 2005. While the program needed the contributions of those guys it is the future of others in the class that could lead the 2005 class to be the best in school history. Terry Longbons, Xavier Smith, Xavier Kelley, Donald Horton, Daniel Borg, Blake Kerley, Garrett Fields and others have the potential to be big time contributors in the very near future. The fact that the coaching staff was able to red shirt most of this class will speak volumes in the future.
10—The return of Spencer Larsen. The Arizona linebacking corps was hurt often in 2005, including injuries to Larsen, but Spencer's return to the squad enhanced the abilities and depth of the unit in 2005. Larsen is as solid a linebacker as there is and the fact that he started once healthy speak volumes about his tenacity and drive. The trio of Larsen, Ronnie Palmer and Dane Krogstad was never on the field at the same time in 2005. With Krogstad and Palmer being injured parts of the year it was Larsen's return that helped solidify what could have been a weak unit. If this unit can stay healthy in 2006 it could be special. With McCovy, Larsen, Palmer, Krogstad, Akinniyi and McKinney all returning and Kelley coming out of his red shirt year, the depth at linebacker is amazing. The key to the whole thing is Larsen's willingness to come back to the Wildcat program.
Almost made the Cut
1—The commitment of Derke Robinson. With Mike Bell departing, locking up a stud like Robinson is huge for the future of the program. Robinson should challenge from the get go for playing time and potentially the starting job.
2—Arizona's performance against #1 USC. The Cats again pushed the top team in the nation and hung with them into the fourth quarter, something that nobody thought possible.
3—Keeping Mark Stoops. It looked like Defensive Coordinator Mark Stoops was ready to leave Arizona and return to Miami and serve as the defensive backs coach for the Dolphins. Stoops stayed in Tucson and is a key to the future of the Wildcat program. I don't think fans know just how close he was to leaving.
4—The commitment of Tyler Lyon. Lyon is a physically impressive quarterback and landing the talented signal caller is big. His willingness to come to Tucson and red shirt and play behind Tuitama for a year or two is huge for the future of the program. He is already putting the program ahead of himself, which is impressive considering he hasn't even signed yet.