By Craig Degel
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Gone is the offensive line that allowed the second lowest number of sacks in the Pacific 10 Conference. Gone is the most prolific rusher in Arizona history. The All-American safety? The All-American kicker? The All-American linebacker? Gone. Gone. Gone. The expectations? Well, you get the idea.
Just one year after being ranked No. 1 by Sports Illustrated, 19th-ranked Arizona is once again the Rodney Dangerfield of the Pac-10. The team that was predicted to win the conference in 1994 is predicted to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack in '95. Nobody seems to expect anything from Arizona Ÿ except, of course, the Wildcats themselves.
"This team has a lot of motivation," said Arizona head coach Dick Tomey. "We're just trying to maximize everybody's capabilities. The key thing to last year's team Ÿ and it's not a secret at this point Ÿ is that not everybody improved. It's the responsibility of each player to maximize his capabilities and the responsibility of the coaching staff to help the players be the best they can be."
The Wildcats, still in search of their first ever Rose Bowl berth, face an uphill battle in 1995. They returned a conference-low nine starters this season, but lost fullback Jason Patterson to a fractured hand and a redshirt season. That leaves just quarterback Dan White and receiver Richard Dice as the only returners from an offense that generated 362.5 yards of offense a game last season Ÿ good for fourth best in the Pac-10.
Arizona will start this season with a completely revamped offensive line. In fact, the only player of the twenty listed offensive lineman who has started a Division-I football game is senior Mani Ott. The 6-foot-3-inch, 255-pound Ott will anchor the line as the starting center. Since all five starters from last year's line graduated, the hunt was on for recruits to fill in the holes. In that respect, the Wildcats hit the junior college jackpot.
Juco transfer Ian McCutcheon will start at the left tackle spot. McCutcheon, from Cerritos (Calif.) College, did not allow a sack last season and was named to the J.C. Gridwire All-America team. The right side of the line will be occupied by tackle Willie Walker and guard Bryan Hand. Hand will be seeing his first playing time in over a year after sitting out with a broken leg. Walker was a key back-up on the line last season while he waited his turn behind the senior-dominated offensive line.
"These guys are pretty damn good," Ott said. "Willie Walker and Frank Middleton are the guys that stick out in my mind."
In Wildcat football watchers' minds, however, who could miss junior college transfer Frank Middleton? Although he's listed in the media guide as weighing 305 pounds, the 6-foot-5-inch Middleton is more in the range of 350. Middleton was a juco All-American on both sides of the ball, recording 78 tackles and 9 sacks last season at Fort Scott (Kan.) College.
UA must also find a way to fill the void left by the graduation of 1,000-yard rusher Ontiwaun Carter and Lou Groza Award-winner Steve McLaughlin, the nation's top placekicker. Junior tailback Gary Taylor and senior placekicker Jon Prasuhn are the top candidates, respectively.
When it comes to defense, Arizona is building itself a strong tradition. But if the team has any hopes of being out of town on New Year's Day, the defense may need to come up big week after week like never before.
"I believe," Tomey said, "we will have the personnel to have another quality defensive unit if some of our newcomers come through and play defense at the same level we've established over the last three years."
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