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The Daily Wildcat

 

    7 things to watch for in ’07

    Tom Knauersenior staff writer
    Tom Knauer
    senior staff writer

    Seriously. This might be It. The Year. When Arizona finally erases nearly a decade of postseason futility and verifies the hype that’s collected like rainwater along Sixth Street the last four seasons under head coach Mike Stoops.

    Unfortunately, as during the summer monsoons in Tucson, that abundant, hopeful moisture has ultimately been left to sit and evaporate, like so many would-be, should-have-been Wildcat victories over the seasons.

    Is this The Year? It could be, though we still have about six sweltering months to sit and think about it. (Careful of those mosquitoes in the meantime. They like puddles.)

    Seven wins – not six and an inexplicable lay-down loss to ASU – will get Arizona over the hump. In the spirit of that sometimes-lucky number (it hasn’t done Willie Tuitama too much good to date), here are seven things I’m looking forward to during this all-important 2007 season:

    Offense … please!

    New offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes has rode into the Old Pueblo promising at least some of the offensive fecundity that overflowed at Texas Tech the last few seasons.

    It’s debatable how much improvement even his user-friendly scheme can affect in a single offseason on a unit ranked 115th nationally in 2006. Many of the culprits – sans wide receiver Syndric Steptoe, Arizona’s best go-to guy under Stoops – will be back in action, for better and worse.

    In any event, fans should finally get a reprieve from the numbingly predictable drive-killing draw-and-screen routine on first and second down.

    The best defense in the Pacific 10 Conference?

    It’s not all that preposterous. California and USC (and probably UCLA) will have something to say about this. But if Stoops has succeeded in one thing during his tenure, it’s been crafting a defense on par with (if not better than this season) the units from the Wildcats’ Desert Storm heyday in the mid- ’90s.

    Arizona returns 10 starters, all of whom are upperclassmen, and quite possibly the best front four, linebackers and secondary in the conference.

    What their three main rivals will put forth in highly touted young talent, Arizona can counter with experienced players who by now should know their assignments upside-down and backward.

    The backup plan at quarterback

    Tuitama got knocked around like an Osama bin Laden pinata last season. (Yes, they make those.) Although Dykes’ scheme promises to get the ball out of his hands quicker, having a quality second option behind center will likely determine whether Arizona makes any progress on the scoreboard and in the win column.

    The top candidates at this point are junior Kris Heavner and redshirt freshman Tyler Lyon. Heavner, while physically gifted, has been woefully inaccurate during his on-again, off-again career at Arizona. Lyon, another specimen at 6-foot-5, has yet to see a snap in a real game.

    The early leader is Lyon on the team’s tenuous spring depth chart. Regardless, both he and Heavner must prove ready to run a new system at the drop of a helmet.

    O-line tinkering?

    As Tuitama took numerous hits to the head last season, a young offensive line was scourged for missing assignments and allowing defenders to attack the quarterback unscathed.

    If the starting lineup returns intact, a senior at left tackle (albeit penalty magnet Peter Graniello) and three sophomores inspire confidence.

    But joining the fray this spring will be a highly touted in redshirt freshman right guard Jovon Hayes, as well as redshirt freshmen Conan Amituanai and Cody Anderson, who have moved from other positions.

    Let’s hope new offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, also late of Texas Tech, decides that jobs will go to the highest bidder – and that cheapskates will be unceremoniously escorted from the auction.

    New faces in big receiving roles

    To succeed, Arizona’s new attack will need at least three receivers who can catch 50-plus balls running a variety of routes. Sophomore Mike Thomas, who’s led the team in receiving yards the last two years, is a soft-handed burner locked into the No. 1 spot.

    But after him?

    Sophomore Terrell Turner is listed as the starter opposite Thomas. Both he and redshirt freshman Terrell Reese saw late-season action in 2006, and the 6-foot-2 Turner apparently stood out a bit more than the 6-foot-4 Reese, his new backup from the time being.

    Anthony Johnson, the No. 3 receiver in 2005-2006, is slated to start at the new split tight end position opposite junior Travis Bell or senior Brandyn McCall.

    Super seniors

    Get ready for the program’s most prolific senior captains since, well, maybe ever. Three of them should be the class of the Pacific 10 Conference, and potentially the nation as well.

    Cornerback Antoine Cason should challenge for first-team All-America honors; defensive end Louis Holmes led the team in sacks in his first year with the team; and linebacker Spencer Larsen broke through with 89 tackles, 10.5 for loss, last season.

    Other final-year players to look out for: safety Dominic Patrick; linebacker Dane Krogstad; and cornerback Wilrey Fontenot, who, like Cason, has started every game of his career.

    Seven wins – seriously

    Yes, it can happen. Another year of experience and a scheme with a successful track record should keep the offense from being any worse than it was last season. Even then, the defense was dominant enough to keep the team afloat for six victories.

    Every offseason, coaches and players tout that they have overcome the mental inconsistency characteristic of the program since the turn of the century. That just may be worth buying this time around.

    Stoops, formerly of Oklahoma, has reconfigured his coaching staff with a slew of Big 12 Conference alumni. That like-mindedness at the top, I predict, will trickle down and finally reap what a panting fan base has longed for.

    Tom Knauer is a journalism and creative writing senior. He can be reached
    at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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