First, first look: Arizona Wildcats

June, 16, 2011
6/16/11
8:34
AM PT
There are 8 weeks until fall camp begins for the USC football team the first week of August. During each of those in-between weeks, and traditionally later in the week, we'll offer up an early first look at the 12 scheduled opponents for the 2011 season, in chronological order. We began with Minnesota, continued the next two weeks with Utah and Syracuse and added Arizona State last week. We now present Arizona, who the Trojans will face at home on Oct. 1:

History: USC's 24-21 win over Arizona on the road in Tucson last November was probably the Trojans' best win of the 2010 season, but USC has historically been at its best when playing the Wildcats, dating back to the teams' first meeting in 1916.

The Trojans didn't lose to Arizona until 1981, although that stat sounds more noteworthy than it is, as the teams played only eight times in between the first game and the first loss. Still, USC is 26-7 all-time against Arizona -- 25-7 if you don't count 2005 -- and has lost only once in its last nine tries now.

The lone loss? At home in 2009, when an 18th-ranked USC squad saw its disappointing season completely unravel in the regular-season finale at the Coliseum as the Wildcats pulled out a final-minutes victory on a Juron Criner touchdown reception.

That game will be brought up early and often when October 1 comes around this year. Here's a compartmentalized look at this season's USC-Arizona matchup:

Offense: Arizona has Criner, maybe the best receiver in the Pac-10, and Texas transfer Dan Buckner as weapons to one of the best signal-callers on the West Coast, senior Nick Foles.

That's enough talent to make anybody worried, and returning running back Keola Antolin only provides more firepower for the Wildcats -- and possesses a serious chance to reach 1,000 rushing yards in 2011. Then there are backup receivers David Douglas, David Roberts and Richard Morrison, starting-caliber receivers all, and tight end Terrence Miller.

USC's secondary will have its hands full with Foles and his guys, and coordinator Seth Littrell has proven to be a risky play-caller in the true spread formation style. 2011 will be Littrell's first season as the full-time coordinator after splitting the duties with Bill Bedenbaugh last season. He spent four years as the running backs coach under Mike Leach at Texas Tech.

The only potential issue with the Wildcat offense? The offensive line. Arizona's spring depth chart didn't have a single senior slated to start on the line and prominently featured two redshirt freshmen.

Defense: Arizona's dominant defensive player is defensive tackle Justin Washington, a sophomore from Texas who earned a number of Freshman All-American honors a year ago. He's the centerpiece of the defense, with senior defensive backs Trevin Wade and Robert Golden and linebacker Paul Vassallo the other difference-makers.

6-3, 240-pound senior linebacker Derek Earls is a returning starter and a juco transfer from a year ago. Six of the 11 projected Wildcat starters are seniors, according to the spring depth chart, meaning this unit will be balanced and experienced, a good combination.

Defensive coordinator Tim Kish will also be in his first season as the full-timer at his spot, taking over the duties last December during bowl-preparation season. This will be his eighth season with the Wildcats.

Special teams/special circumstances: Arizona returns talented senior kicker Alex Zendejas, the nephew of the famous Max Zendejas. Alex has range out to 50 yards, can punt in a pinch, and was on the Lou Groza Award watch list for 2010.

The Wildcats don't have an incumbent punter, although JC transfer Kyle Dugandzic, an Agoura native, enrolled early in January and is expected to take over the punting and holding duties.

Garic Wharton might be the early favorite to be Arizona's top returner, and understandably so. He has an extensive track background. Antolin, Douglas, Buckner and Morrison could all see some time returning punts and kicks.

That's it for this week. Next week comes a look at the Cal Bears.
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