Arizona Wildcat receiver Juron Criner was, not surprisingly, named to the Biletnikoff preseason watchlist. Criner's teammate, kicker Alex Zendejas, is on the Lou Groza award watchlist, given to the nation's top place-kicker. Come again?
Whether it's a cruel trick by the football gods, a mistake or we're actually in hell, that doesn't make sense. Or does it? Teammates and fans wanted Zendejas' head following last year's -- dare I mention it -- epic collapse against the ASU Sun Devils in which Arizona lost in overtime because Z-Man missed not one, but two extra points after UA touchdowns.
Many harsh jokes came after it happened (my favorite being the "Alex Zendejas couldn't kick out a chair from under him if he tried to hang himself") but nothing was funny about how Zendejas gave the game away. I mean, you had to have seen it coming. An important game was bound to go awry after a couple earlier missed PATs and also the little incident about a year earlier in which a practice extra point went into the back of one of Zendejas' teammates' heads, giving him a concussion. So when it happened, it wasn't like a holy-cow moment (at least, I wasn't totally shocked).
But how about this Lou Groza list, eh? Let's just take a look at whether this is real life or whether this is some Zendejas-induced Inception.Zendejas actually is one of the better kickers in the conference, by the numbers. The Pac-10, now 12, has traditionally had great kickers and it's a slight misconception that all leagues are in the same great shape. Every once in a while, you'll catch a top-notch Division I team that would rather go for it or punt the ball when faced with a 40- to-45-yard field goal. Not so at Arizona.
The numbers stack up for Alex Z as well. In a preview of each teams' position, ESPN's Ted Miller gives the Wildcats a "Good" grade:
Zendejas had some, er, notable issues -- we won't even bring up the PATs in the Arizona State game -- but he did make 14 of 19 field goals with a long of 47. His 73.7 percent field goal percentage ranked third in the Pac-10 in 2010, ahead, by the way, of UCLA's Kai Forbath.
Impressive, actually. Also surprising.
Let's look at it this way -- while its hard to argue that Zendejas didn't single-handedly lose last season's ASU game, it's not like the Wildcats should have put themselves in that position to a .500 team anyhow. Yeah, rivalry games work like that, especially when ASU had such a good defense. But the Wildcats had some 6-foot-5 quarterback run all over them and then Stoops later regretted not going for two points for the win in overtime.
Plus, it was that same Alex Zendejas who gave Arizona its only second-half points in 2009, when he hit a 32-yarder to steal one in Tempe following a miracle fumble by ASU on the punt return. So that makes Zendejas 1-for-2 in crazy games that the other team potentially could have won. Like 2009, when the Wildcats had nothing going for them in the second half, it was Arizona who made the big plays to put themselves in position to win during 2010's Territorial Cup.
Might I add that his 2009 campaign was the sixth-highest scoring season for any Wildcat player? That has to be worth something. And outside of the two crazy contests, Zendejas hasn't been so bad, has he? Not that I'm saying a kicker should continually miss extra points, but there's only one bad game where it mattered. It's not like he'd been losing game after game -- that whole losing streak at the end of last season was due to multiple other issues.
Back to Zendejas. SB Nation football writer Bill Connelly said in his Arizona season preview said it well:
Alex Zendejas was, for all intents an purposes, a perfectly average kicker who made 74% of his field goal attempts; but these two misses were killers.
Granted, the legacy of Zendejas moving forward will be shaped by how he recovers from the 2010 season. Will he? Won't he? Time will tell.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? DOES ALEX ZENDEJAS DESERVE LOU GROZA AWARD CONSIDERATION?