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NFL early entries: How they affect Arizona

Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon runs past Arizona cornerback Robert Golden in the Alamo Bowl.
Photo by Matt Strasen-US PRESSWIRE

It’s been mostly good news.

There wasn’t much doubt that Arizona Wildcats junior quarterback Nick Foles was coming back … and he is. The case of junior receiver Juron Criner was, as he put it at one point last month, 50-50. But he has told coach Mike Stoops that he will be back in 2011.

Now, the bad news.

The Wildcats’ schedule for the first half of the 2011 season is loaded with five teams that defeated Arizona last season. The Cats have to play Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon in September; those teams were a combined 35-4 in 2010 and each finished in the top 10 of the final coaches poll.

Now, the worse news.

The stars of those teams are all coming back.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, projected as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, is coming back to school, even though his coach, Jim Harbaugh, isn’t.

Oregon’s running back LaMichael James will be rocking the neon socks again next season after leading the nation in rushing at 144.25 yards per game.

And, just today, Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon — the winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver, announced he was coming back to do more strutting on the college stage. Oh yeah, so, too did Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden.

Just Arizona’s luck.

The upshot of all the early-entry decisions is that Arizona could very well face three top 10 teams before the end of September after opening up against NAU. They will see the nation’s top quarterback, running back and receiver (and Weeden is really good, too).

Put the current five-game losing streak up against those players and that schedule … and, well, it might not be a pretty picture.

But we’ll close with a little good news.

The Pac-12 South won’t be as tough as it could have been. Six players from the division are leaving early:

–UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers
–Utah cornerback Brandon Burton
–USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey
–ASU defensive tackle Lawrence Guy
–UCLA safety Rahim Moore
–USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith

Here is Arizona’s 2011 schedule:

Sept. 3 — NAU
Sept. 10 — at Oklahoma State
Sept. 17 — Stanford
Sept. 24 — Oregon
Oct. 1 — at USC
Oct. 8 — at Oregon State
Oct. 20 — UCLA (Thursday night game)
Oct. 29 — at Washington
Nov. 5 — Utah (Homecoming)
Nov. 12 — at Colorado
Nov. 19 — at Arizona State
Nov. 26 — Louisiana-Lafayette

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