5 things we feel good about
1. Willie Tuitama
The sophomore quarterback looks like the real deal. He had a great fall camp and is the most complete quarterback the Cats have had in over 20 years. His grasp of the offense is better than a year ago and it is apparent that he possesses great touch. Head coach Mike Stoops had the ultimate praise when he said he is not sure that he has had a quarterback have a better camp that Tuitama has had.
2. The linebackers
Forget the injury bug. The three linebackers remained healthy and looked great in camp. They have size, speed and instincts. It will be interesting to see who steps up, as all three had great fall camps. Spencer Larsen may be the big play guy, but Ronnie Palmer may be the most complete of the three starters. Depth should not be a concern as Xavier Kelly, Adrian McCovy and John McKinney are all solid.
3. The receivers
Everyone wants to talk about the three freshmen, but it was the returners who looked great in the preseason. Everyone knew Mike Thomas and Syndric Steptoe would be counted upon, but Anthony Johnson and B.J. Dennard look poised to have better seasons than many people would expect.
4. The defensive backs
Everyone knew that the three returners would be good, but the free safety spot has a three-headed monster, and there appears to be depth. Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot are as solid a pair of corners as you will find. Dominic Patrick is a big hitter, Brandon Tatum is the freak athlete, while Nate Ness has a nose for the ball. The Cats has a fee safety for every occasion. Guys like Michael Klyce, Devin Ross and Michael Turner have all proven that they can step up and fill in when needed.
5. The kicking game
There weren't a lot of questions about Nick Folk, but the place kicker appears to be even stronger and more accurate this season. The real surprise has been the punting game. Kyle McQuown lacked consistency last year but looks like he can step in and fill the shoes of Danny Baugher. He fended off a preseason challenge by Keenyn Crier and should be pushed all year by the freshman.
5 things we worry about
1. Offensive line
The talent is there, but is the health and chemistry? No fewer than five key linemen missed time in the preseason with injuries and that limited the amount of time the top players could work together. This team must have a cohesive line if they want the offense to click.
2. Running game
There is talent there, but until they do it for real the skepticism will remain. The good news is that the worrisome fumbles that plagued Chris Henry last year were not apparent in fall camp and Xavier Smith and Chris Jennings have been very impressive.
3. The killer instinct
Five of the Wildcats' eight losses a year ago were still in doubt on the
Cats' last possession, but the only close game they won was the
4. Surviving injuries
Although depth is better, there are still a few spots the Cats can't suffer injuries. Players like Tuitama, Cason and Brad Wood may be irreplaceable. Although Adam Austin looks like a capable back-up, there is a drop-off after the top guy. At corner it is not as if there is no talent, but Cason is such a special player that he would be missed.
The schedule is tough early. The Cats likely have to go 2-2 that first month to have a legitimate shot at a bowl game. A road game against LSU and a home date against USC are particularly daunting and the opener against BYU is no walk in the park. A .500 start or better would go a long way towards a successful season.
5 things we think
1. Chris Jennings is good
He has to prove it on a Saturday night, but the skill set that the
walk-on running back possesses is impressive.
2. Defense will be among league's best
There is too much talent, and too many bodies for the unit not to be improved. For the first time in a decade there is depth on the offensive line and the linebackers and secondary have the ability to be special. With no offseason coaching changes for the third straight year and the Stoops brothers at the helm, things could be really good.
3. Offense will be improved
There were flashes of brilliance a year ago, but there were still some rough spots. Mike Canales seems very confident in his charges and there is enough talent that coaches can't focus on a player or two. They still need consistent blocking and to avoid drops and turnovers, but expect this to be the best offensive team in five years.
4. Draft day
Michael Johnson or Brad Wood will be the first Mike Stoops recruited player to get drafted, assuming players like Louis Holmes or Antoine Cason do not go pro early. Players like Tanner Bell, Marcus Smith, Nick Folk and Paul Phillipp could all be selected if they have solid senior seasons.
The Cats need six wins to go bowling for the first time since 1998. The Cats are slowly being remade in the image of Stoops and the payoff could come in December. The schedule after September is favorable and the Pac-10 is wide open.
5 things we don't know
1. Who will emerge at running back?
2. Can they survive some key injuries?
We assume there is enough young talent to cope with injuries, but we really don't know. Are the young linemen, linebackers and defensive backs good enough? Is the wide receiver and defensive line depth really as good as it seems?
3. Which freshmen will step up?
There look to be a handful of first year players who can see the field this year. Earl Mitchell and Brooks Reed seem to be entrenched at fullback, while Delashaun Dean, Terrell Turner and Terrell Reese should factor at wide receiver. Guys like Devin Ross, Corey Elmore and Michael Turner could see time on defense.
4. Can the junior college players live up to the hype?
Gabe Long and Louis Holmes came in with a lot of hype and accolades, but can they live up to the fans expectations? Even if they have solid seasons it may not be enough for those who expect the world of the two five-star players.
5. Can the Wildcat coaching staff stay together?
To date only the various tight end coaches have left the program, leaving the rest of the staff intact heading into their third season. If the Cats have a good season, you have to wonder if there won't be better opportunities for some of the staff. If the team struggles, the pressure to shake things up may be too great.