A few weeks into spring ball, the Arizona Wildcats are in a questionable position.
On one hand, you have a team on a three-year bowl streak. On the other, the last two bowl games ended up with flops of performances. Plus, last season's five-game slide to finish off the year won't put a whole lot of optimism into head coach Mike Stoops' program.
Still, there's much to be excited about. I won't go up and down the whole roster, but here's a few key developments that could steer the Wildcats into fighting for the top of the Pacific 12 Conference (that's weird to say) or down into the dumps of what should be another deep league in 2011 -- not counting the poor Washington State Cougars, of course.
They've hardly had time to see the field, but two knee injuries have already hit two of Arizona's key players.
Running back Greg Nwoko, expected to be the back-up to lead Keola Antolin, is out with a knee injury. That's a big blow considering Antolin himself doesn't have the track record of staying healthy, making the development of third-man Daniel Jenkins, a small, speedy sophomore, all the more important.
Then there's the biggest blow. Arizona's defense was solid for most of last season, but until safety Adam Hall began knocking heads off opposing players, they didn't really have what you'd call a "playmaker." Hall is now out for around seven weeks, according to the Daily Star, who also notes up-and-comers in DT Justin Washington and cornerback Shaq Richardson are also being held out of practice.
For Stoops, getting his team healthy going into the summer (and during it, I guess) will be huge. The season is a long ways off, but the current rate of injury isn't something to discount hurting UA down the road.
Arizona's offensive line was the rock that got everything moving for the Wildcats' offense last year. With a huge loss in talent to graduation, the biggest hurt for Arizona would be the loss of mastermind Bill Bedenbaugh, the offensive line coach.
It happened, and he left for West Virginia for the same position. Now, the Wildcats bring in Robert Anae, a guy highly respected out of BYU to take over a young line.
Meanwhile, the defensive units' most picked-upon group, the defensive backs, got snubbed by Texas' Duane Akina, who spent about two weeks on the job before returning to the Longhorns. In his place is young-gun Ryan Walters playing secondary coach. Who knows? Maybe Stoops found a diamond in the rough.
Walters biggest job is getting cornerback Trevin Wade back to form after a pretty bad sophomore season.
But there's positives too.
Nick Foles, duh
Some people, like me, like Matt Scott in this system better than Foles. But with Scott redshirting, that doesn't mean Foles will be bad. Lots of his problems last year came because of a deficient run game.
Plus, you've got the young guys like Terrence Miller, the always dependable David Douglas. Simply put, Foles will have the ammo to bomb some Pac-12 defenses this coming season. Now, how about that run game?
Health aside, Arizona's defense doesn't lose a who lot outside of their three beastly defensive ends. Justin Washington will be a force if he's put on some weight, Wade couldn't have gotten worse, and Adam Hall began looking like the guy at Palo Verde High School -- a man amongst boys. The cornerbacks should be more experienced opposite Wade, too.
And of course, there's always the underappreciated linebackers, all returning.
In generic terms, Arizona looks great on paper. But as it's been for this program for a decade now, they simply need to figure out how to have a winning mentality, game in and game out.
What do you think are the most important things that happen this spring for Arizona to recover from the fizzle-out of last season?