1. The defensive front: This is the no-brainer, so very little in the way of revelation here. Arizona appears vulnerable along the front line, which generally bodes of serious problems for the entire defense. If the front line isn't strong enough to stop the run, that's a problem. And if the front line can't get to the quarterback, it's sayonara, regardless of how good the remainder of the defense is. Logically, this will be Arizona's key area of focus, and there's a strong possibility we won't get a true read on its capabilities until the matchup at Wisconsin. But if the defense is even a little better, it might help to turn the tide in some close games, and that might be just enough to make a move up the standings.
2. Special teams: I understand that I write a column on a website dedicated to Arizona Wildcat fans. Additionally, if you paid good money to read the premium stuff, which is generally where this column is included, then you're hardcore. As a result, I should be able to approach the special teams with a delicate keyboard. But let's cut the crap. Last year, the Wildcats weren't bad in special teams. They were embarrassing. OK, so Sean Keel was a solid field goal kicker, but certainly nothing that would overwhelm. Bobby Wade had his share of exciting punt returns, and canceled those out by often laying the ball on the ground. The punting game was brutal. Sad but true. Danny Baugher has pushed Ramey Peru hard during preseason drills. Baugher could be the most important addition to the team.
Undestimate the value of special teams? Consider, Arizona State trailed Nebraska 10-3 at the half, and then made a bonehead decision on the second half kickoff that pinned the team at the six. Four plays later, ASU punted to its own 20. Touchdown Nebraska. Follow that by two punt blocks and what was a competitive game turned into route city.
Big plays can and do happen on special teams, and if Arizona doesn't make strides here, it has the potential to play itself out of some games.
3. Time of possession: Personally, I think this generally ranks as one of the most ridiculous statistics kept, and that's in a morass of ridiculous statistics. But with Arizona this year, time of possession could play a significant role. Offensively, the UA will score. If it doesn't, there's a problem. Just too many weapons to struggle on that side of the ball. But Arizona will need its share of sustained drives to be truly successful. We're perfectly aware of the uncertainties on the defensive side of the ball, so keeping that part of the team on the sidelines as much as possible becomes paramount.
The defense is more than a question mark. It also has serious depth concerns. If Arizona's offense engages in a number of short drives, whether effective or not, eventually that can take its toll on the defense. Conversely, if Arizona can string together its share of eight to 12-play drives, the defense will have all kinds of time to catch its breath.
In other news, the UA unveiled a series of new logos with the assistance of the good folk at Nike. I actually like the new look. I think the aerodynamic cactus logo is pretty cool. There are some nice saguaro/mountain motifs. Good stuff generally. Quite slick.
And then there's the ridiculous. Have you noticed that Wilbur ain't packin' anymore? That's right, ol' Wilbur the Wildcat has been stripped of his handguns. This is, according to the UA's Phoebe Chalk, a move of responsibility inasmuch as the Wilbur logo is generally used when presenting Wildcat athletics to children. Uh huh.
Here's the jump in logic. Or at least what I perceive as the jump in what they would consider logic. You see, because a cartoon drawing has a gun, it will signal to kids that guns are ok. Therefore, kids can have guns, because Wilbur has a gun, and therefore they can shoot those guns, and kill people, because guns are ok, because Wilbur has a gun.
You'll forgive me if I continue to struggle with this one. I suspect that someday I'll be watching the Cartoon Network, checking out those old Bugs Bunny classics, and poor Yosemite Sam will have his six shooters airbrushed out. Or Quick Draw McGraw will be stripped of his, um, quick drawing abilities.
Most of us probably won't even notice Wilbur, packin' or not packin', but if you're going for a western motif, and that's certainly what Wilbur is, then the guns are as much a part of that motif as the cowboy hat and spurs. The best part is that Wilbur's hands are poised in such a way that he looks as though he's about to draw. Sadly for poor Wilbur, there's nothing to fire, for someone did the drawing for him.