That Arizona got blown out by both Oregon and Stanford isn't the problem with the 2010 season. The Wildcats' what-might-have-been season is based on three close defeats by a combined six points.
The Wildcats started impressively. They dominated on the road at Toledo -- the Rockets finished 8-4 and are playing in the Little Caesars Bowl -- and then made an impressive physical assertion in a 34-27 win over then-No. 9 Iowa.
They gutted out a win over California -- a second-consecutive game-winning TD drive from quarterback Nick Foles made the difference -- but then seemed flat on both sides of the ball in a 29-27 loss to Oregon State. Still, after a three-game winning streak, they were 7-1 and were 15th in the BCS standings, having survived an injury to Foles due to impressive play by backup Matt Scott.
They got humbled at Stanford 42-17, as the run defense sprung a leak that would be the story over the final third of the season. They got outrushed 205-51 in a home loss to USC. And they got outrushed 389-58 by Oregon.
But the late-season slide would have been bearable -- hey, the schedule was much tougher -- if not for the double-overtime home loss to rival Arizona State due to a pair of blocked PATs. That was excruciating.
Offensive MVP: This will be our only co-MVP: QB Nick Foles and WR Juron Criner. They are the Pac-10's best pass-catch combination, and if both opt to return for their senior seasons, the Wildcats should be pretty dangerous throwing the ball in 2011. Foles completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 2,911 yards -- in 10 games -- with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Criner was eighth in the nation and first in the Pac-10 with 98.8 yards receiving per game and 10 TDs. Whenever the Wildcats' offense needed a play, Foles and Criner were the ones who made it.
Defensive MVP: Defensive end Ricky Elmore led the Wildcats with 13 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks. His 48 total tackles also led all Wildcats defensive linemen.
Turning point: Arizona went to Stanford 7-1 and ranked 15th. That humbling game became the first of four losses to end the season.
What’s next? If Foles and Criner return, the offense has a chance to be good, though the entire line must be rebuilt (which is sort of a big issue). The defense is a reverse of last year. There will be a lot of returning experience in the secondary and at linebacker, and there's some young quality at tackle, but replacing three quality ends -- Elmore and Brooks Reed as well as solid No. 3 guy D'Aundre Reed -- won't be easy. But the Pac-12 South figures to be wide open in 2011. And don't be surprised if the 2011 Territorial Cup plays a significant role in figuring out who wins the division. A tough road trip to Oklahoma State is the highlight of the nonconference schedule.