The 2010 football season was a wild one for the Arizona Wildcats. After knocking off the Iowa Hawkeyes in a wild, nationally televised game, many had started to wonder if it was the season the team would finally make the Rose Bowl. Armed with a quarterback as accurate as any in the game, a set of talented wide receivers, and a defense led primarily by upperclassmen, there was plenty of reason to be excited.
And then the wheels fell off.
The team started off strong at 4-0 before suffering a hiccup against the Oregon State Beavers at home. While some of the momentum previously gained was lost, the Wildcats came back to win their next three games to move them to 7-1 on the season. The only problem was they hadn't exactly played the upper echelon of the Pac 10 and instead feasted on the weaker teams in the conference.
The rest of the way was not pretty; Nick Foles was injured and the team was torn to shreds by Andrew Luck and the Cardinal. They fell at home to a motivated USC team and then (understandably) fell to the No. 1 ranked Oregon Ducks. And then who could forget when Alex Zendejas went all Alex Zendejas on the Cats when they fell to the Arizona State Sun Devils in a crushing 30-29 defeat? The bowl game against Oklahoma State wasn't exactly pretty, either.
Fortunately for Arizona, it's a new season with a clean slate. They have not won a football game since October 30, but again, all of the bad that happened last year no longer matters.
2011 Schedule Breakdown, Part 1:
Northern Arizona Lumberjacks - Saturday, September 3, 6pm
The Wildcats will be favored in one game until October 19. This is that game, and all of the kinks will need to be worked out against the Lumberjacks as head coach Mike Stoops and his staff try to prepare their team for the brutal stretch that follows.
Expect Arizona to come out rusty for the first game of the season, but the Cats should have this game in hand by halftime. No offense to the Lumberjacks, but they aren't exactly very good. Look for them to break out a trick play or two to steal a couple of points early, but Arizona's talent and skill will eventually win out.
@ Oklahoma State Cowboys - Thursday, September 8, 5pm
I told you the stretch of schedule was brutal after the first week. This is just the start.
The Cowboys, who dismantled Arizona in the 2010 Alamo Bowl, have most of their fire power back from an offense that was among the best in college football last season. With a raucous crowd in front of a nationally televised, primetime game, it's tough to see the Cats pulling out a victory, though a shootout is expected.
The key will be to cover (or at least slow down) superstar wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who torched the secondary in the bowl game. Hint to coach Stoops: Don't try to single-cover him like we did last year. It's not just Blackmon the Wildcats will have to be concerned with; 27-year old quarterback Brandon Weeden will be a Heisman candidate and despite losing Kendall Hunter to the NFL the Cowboys always seem to find a talented running back or two to complement their pass attack.
Stanford Cardinal - Saturday, September 17, 6:45pm
The stretch of top-10 teams continues with the Stanford Cardinal, who are led by all-everything quarterback Andrew Luck.
The Cardinal will be a juggernaut offensively, though they do have to deal with a lot of turnover on the coaching staff -- including head coach Jim Harbaugh who bolted for the NFL -- as well as on defense. Outside of Luck, junior running back Stepfan Taylor rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season and balances out the offense nicely. There are a few questions surrounding Stanford's wide receivers, but all they have to do is get a little bit of separation for Luck to find them.
Arizona Stadium will be sold-out and the Zona Zoo will be in full force for the first Pac 12 game of the year, and while an upset is possible, the Cats will have to be firing on all cylinders to come away with the victory.
Oregon Ducks - Saturday, September 24, 6:15pm
Hey, we've already played two national championship contenders, why not go for the trifecta, right?
The Oregon Ducks and their inevitable recruiting violations will head down to Arizona Stadium in what will be back-to-back games with huge implications for the Wildcats. The Ducks, who fell a field goal short of winning the national championship last season, return quite a few of their starters, though there were a few departures.
The Ducks come at you in every way imaginable on offense. Dual-threat quarterback Darron Thomas can burn a defense with his arm and his legs, though accuracy and decision making have been an issue in the past. Running back LaMichael James thinks it's cool to break conference rushing records and he'll probably be breaking a few more this season. Oregon will be a little thin at wide receiver, but they load their roster with freak-of-nature athletes who will likely be able to fill in nicely for head coach Chip Kelly.
Similar to the Stanford game, this is a winnable game for Arizona simply because they're at home, but don't expect too much. The defense will have the best game of their collective lives if they hope to slow down the Ducks.
@ USC Trojans - Saturday, October 1, TBD
Yes! A team that isn't ranked in the top-10 to start the season!
Wait, what? They might be the best team in the division? And we have to play on the road? Fantastic.
The Trojans may still be ineligible for the postseason, but they are regaining a lot of the talent that has been lost since their national championship days a few seasons ago. Two-year starter Matt Barkley is back to try and prove himself to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and has a bevy of talented weapons in the backfield behind him. The loss of all-conference receiver Ronald Johnson will hurt and take some time to adjusting to, but the Trojans should have capable targets for Barkley to hit.
Arizona and USC always seem to have great games against each other and the road team has won the battle the last three seasons. Don't expect anything different this time around.
This is the first part of a complete preview of the 2011 Arizona Wildcats. Stay tuned to SB Nation Arizona for further coverage. For more UA coverage, be sure to check out AZ Desert Swarm.