THE OPPOSITION: A look at Arizona

After a disappointing 2005 campaign, the head coach Mike Stoops and the Arizona Wildcats have high expectations for this year, expecting to be playing in a bowl at the season's end. A year ago, Arizona finished with a 3-8 record, with a 2-6 mark in the Pac-10 to finish in 8th place in the conference.

Despite their less than stellar overall performance, they did pull off an impressive 52-14 win over UCLA, who at the time was ranked 7th in the country.

 

This year's Wildcat squad will be one loaded with experience across the board, returning 16 starters out of 22 positions, as well as bringing back 43 out of 60 lettermen.

 

One position Arizona fans are the most optimistic entering the fall is at quarterback, where they will return last year's freshman sensation Willie Tuitama (6-3, 218, So.). Tuitama took over the starting role during the second half of 2005, leading the Wildcats to victory against Oregon State during his first collegiate start. Despite playing in just five games, he finished the year with 1,105 passing yards for nine touchdowns.

 

Aiding Tuitama in the passing game will be the receiving trio of Mike Thomas (5-8, 178, So.), Syndric Steptoe (5-9, 185, Sr.) and Anthony Johnson (6-2, 205, Jr.), who were the first, second and third leading receivers on the team, respectively, last season. Thomas' 771 yards and five touchdowns was good enough to earn him Freshman All-American honors. He was also named Pac-10 co-Freshman Offensive Player of the Year.

 

At tight end, Brandyn McCall (6-4, 245, Jr.), Travis Bell (6-6, 245, So.) and Brad Wood (6-3, 250, Sr.) could all see playing time, with Wood being the most productive tight end a year ago after accumulating 304 yards and a team-high six touchdowns. McCall, who redshirted last season after transferring from junior college, is the early No. One on the depth chart.

 

The offensive line also boasts experience in 2006, with all five front men receiving starts last season. Leading the charge will be left tackle Peter Graniello (6-6, 285, Jr.), an honorable mention All-Pac 10 player, as well as right tackle Tanner Bell (6-8, 294, Sr.) and center Erick Levitre (6-1, 282, Sr.), all three of whom were regular starters last season. Filling in at the guards will be Joe Longacre (6-3, 303, So.), who started four times as a freshman and Adam Hawes (6-4, 302, Sr.), who started three times.

 

Also vying for time on the line will be the redshirt freshman trio of Daniel Borg (6-5, 280) at guard, Eben Britton (6-6, 285) at tackle and Blake Kerley (6-2, 280) at center.

 

Arizona's most inexperienced position in 2006 will be at running back, where the Wildcats will look to replace the duo of Mike Bell and Gilbert Harris.

 

The heir apparent to the running back role is Chris Henry (6-0, 215, Jr.), who ran just 34 times for 119 yards as a backup last season. Former linebacker Brandon Lopez (6-1, 220, So.) will get the nod at fullback.

 

The Wildcat defense will return even more experience than their offensive counterparts in 2006, losing just two starters off last year's squad.

 

Leading the defensive effort will be strong safety Michael Johnson (6-2, 210, Sr.) and veteran cornerbacks Antoine Cason (6-0, 182, Jr.) and Wilrey Fontenot (5-9, 174, Jr.). Last season, Johnson was second on the team with 60 tackles and had a team-best four interceptions. Fontenot and Cason are perhaps some of the most experienced players on the team, as each of them have played in every defensive play of their college careers.

 

With the loss of last year's defensive leader, free safety Darrell Brooks, the final spot in the secondary has not been secured, with Brandon Tatum (6-1, 188, So.) and Dominic Patrick (6-1, 210, Jr.) competing for the role.

 

After being plagued by injuries a year ago, Arizona's linebackers, if they remain healthy, look to be another strength for the defense in 2006. Returning at linebacker will be Dane Krogstad (6-2, 240, Jr.), Spencer Larsen (6-1, 240, Jr.) and Ronnie Palmer (6-3, 239, So.), all of whom were named as starters last year but then suffered injuries at various times throughout the season. At the year's end, Larson had 51 tackles, the third best mark on the team, while only playing eight games. Krogstad and Palmer each finished with 38 tackles, playing in five games and six games, respectively.

 

On the defensive line, the Wildcats will return four starters from 2005, including tackles Lionel Dotson (6-4, 280, Jr.) and Yaniv Barnett (6-1, 285, Jr.) and ends Jonathan Turner (6-3, 260-So.) and Marcus Smith (6-5, 285, Sr.).

 

Paul Phillipp (6-3, 294, Sr.) may also play a role for Arizona at tackle or nose guard, while Jason Parker, who made 14 tackles in 11 appearances last year, could also squeeze into a starting role at end.

 

Nick Folk (6-1, 215, Sr.) will be back in 2006 at kicker, after going 7-11 on field goals last season and connecting on 31 out of 33 extra point attempts. Kyle McQuown (5-9, 175, Jr.) is slated as the starting punter, though that job could also end up going to Folk, as it did last season when starting punter Danny Baugher was injured.

 

Syndric Steptoe will again be the return man for Arizona. Last season, Steptoe returned 19 kickoffs for 484 yards and 20 punts for 221 yards and one touchdown.

 

 

QUICK FACTS: ARIZONA WILDCATS

 

All-Time Series: 2-0-0

 

Stadium: Arizona Stadium (59,920)

 

First Meeting: 1984, LSU 27, Arizona 26

 

Last Meeting: 2003, LSU 59, Arizona 13

 

Head Coach: Mike Stoops, 6-16 at UA and overall, 2 years

 

2005 in Review: 3-8, 2-6 Pac-10

 

Final '05 Ranking: Not ranked

 

Off. / Def. Systems: Multiple Pro-Style / 4-3

 

Returning Starters: 17; 7 offense, 9 defense, kicker

 

Last Bowl Appearance: 1998 Holiday

 

Last Conference Championship: 1993 Pac-10 Co-champs

 

 

RETURNING LEADERS

 

Rushing: Chris Henry – 34 rushes, 119 yards, 0 TD

 

Passing: Willie Tuitama – 142-82-5, 1105 yards, 9 TD

 

Receiving: Mike Thomas – 52 catches, 771 yards, 5 TD

 

Tackles: Wilrey Fontenot – 93 TT (62S, 31A)

 

 

2006 SCHEDULE

 

Date                 Opponent                     '05 Result

 

S-2                  BYU                            ---

 

S-9                  at LSU                         ---

 

S-16                Stephen F. Austin         ---

 

S-23                USC                            L, 42-21

 

S-30                Washington                  L, 38-10

 

O-7                  at UCLA                      W, 52-14

 

O-14                at Stanford                   L, 20-16

 

O-21                Oregon State                W, 29-27

 

N-4                  at Washington State      ---

 

N-11                at California                  L, 28-0

 

N-18                at Oregon                     L, 28-21

 

N-25                Arizona State                L, 23-20


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