A football team usually derives its most valuable player from its skill positions - i.e. quarterback, running back, wide receiver. I'm doubtful that Arizona's anemic offense will improve much this season (though I'd love to be wrong), unless Mike Canales decides to rush on 80 percent of the snaps. We can only pray.
Mike Bell, running back
Upset of the year
In sports, the term "upset" hinges on one team beating another, supposedly better team. Going down the schedule, it's conceivable that unless we beat ASU again - doesn't that roll so nicely off the tongue? - Utah could be the answer here. But screw logic.
Southern California (or Purdue)
Most sporting publications predict the Wildcats to finish around the bottom of the Pacific 10 Conference, along such sterling competitors as Stanford and Washington. Given victories over those teams, it's not inconceivable for Arizona to finish with six wins, which would be enough for a bowl berth if we beat anyone decent. I'm not counting on it this year, though it'll be close.
To put themselves in position for a postseason berth, the Wildcats need at least two wins in its first five games and a pretty good showing in the conference. NAU's a given, so we have to beat either Purdue or Utah (or both, bwa ha ha). That's reasonable, I guess, but I think I'm still a little shell-shocked from last year's game against Wisconsin.
Nope; better luck next year
Darrell Brooks has posted some impressive statistics in his previous three seasons in Arizona. He has 202 tackles, 25 hits for a loss, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and has yet to miss a game. Sports Illustrated may have misspelled his name, but everyone in the Pac-10 knows it. The rest of the nation will, too, when he establishes himself as the top collegiate safety.
Darrell Brooks, safety
The Big Ten is a conference that likes to rest on its laurels. Because Michigan and Ohio State have had great teams in the past, the rest of the nation is apparently supposed to fear the conference in the present. It's this cockiness - and the departure of Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton - that will give Arizona the edge and eventual victory over the nationally ranked Boilermakers on Sept. 17.
The Wildcats have the misfortune of a brutal early schedule. Three of their first five opponents - Utah, California and USC - were in the national top 10 at last season's end, and all of those encounters will be on the road. And a fourth team, Purdue, took ASU to the brink in the Sun Bowl. It will be another season of vast improvement, but Stoops' crew is still a year away from an above-.500 mark.
The first month of the season is likely to be a roller coaster ride and a costly one at that. The Pacific 10 Conference will be very competitive this year, with eight teams having a legitimate shot at the postseason. Unfortunately for Arizona, it will be one of the two capable left in the lurch. Though a bowl game is likely still a year away, three Pac-10 wins and five victories overall would be an impressive turnaround for the program.
A year away
Just like in the ASU game last season, as goes Richard Kovalcheck, so will the Wildcats. Kovalcheck won't have the best season of anyone on the team (Chris Henry will be the most productive), but he will have the biggest say in how Arizona finishes. If Kovalcheck can control the offense in his first full season as a starter - and not turn the ball over and just make the routine plays - the Wildcats will be successful. If not, they won't.
Richard Kovalcheck, quarterback
Like Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson taught us this summer in "Wedding Crashers," girls at a wedding are ripe for the picking. In football terms, Utah is the maid of honor at a wedding with an open bar, fresh off a long-term relationship with the departed Alex Smith. The Wildcats should have no problem knocking them up, er, off.
I wanted worse than ever to pick the Wildcats to finish 6-5 and put the team in its first bowl game since 1998, but could only find five games they'll win: Utah, NAU, Stanford, UCLA and Washington. I think Arizona's schedule is too tough this season. It will have to wait until the 2006 season to go bowling.
Like I've been saying, since I saw the bowl schedule over the summer, I've been planning a trip to Las Vegas on Dec. 22. If the Wildcat football team wants to join me, I'd love the company. Sadly, I think I'm going to be losing my ass at a blackjack table rather than spending anytime at Sam Boyd Stadium.
No; it's going to be a lonely winter break in Vegas
Because the offense wears white jerseys and the defense wears blue, B.J. Dennard has been changing clothes more often than my sister. The wide receiver-defensive back may be the best athlete on the team. Plus, Arizona stole the Phoenix native from ASU, where his cousin and dad played. It's always good to take one back from the dark side - kind of the opposite of the whole Anakin Skywalker drama this summer.
B.J. Dennard, wide receiver-defensive back
I'm not too high on California. They return nine starters and lost Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Arrington. Marshawn Lynch looks good, but before we give him the Heisman in his first year starting, let's see how he does with a virgin QB. Duh Bears are the perfect team for the hungry Arizona to pick off. Just ask Texas Tech.
Had the ball bounced a little differently a couple of times, Arizona's 2004 season would have been a lot different. The Wildcats would have gone at least 5-6 and probably done even better - they started slumping after losing to Wazzu. Last year Arizona was 3-8, but could have easily been 8-3. This year they will start winning those close calls.
Arizona will tie for fifth in the Pacific 10 Conference with Oregon, but in a rare move of common sense by the bowl selection officers, the Las Vegas Bowl will pick Arizona, leaving the Ducks for the Emerald Bowl. Awaiting the Wildcats in Vegas will be New Mexico, the Mountain West's No. 2 team, or Arizona Jr. for short.
Las Vegas Bowl