Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez
2015 record: 7-6 overall, 3-6 Pac 12 South
2015 Postseason results: Beat New Mexico 45-37 in the New Mexico Bowl
2016 returning starters: 7 offense, 8 defense
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 500/1
Odds to win 2016 Pac 12 Championship Game: 30/1
Odds to Win 2016 Pac 12 South Division: +755
Regular season wins: under 6 1/2 -140 / over 6 1/2 +110
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The Arizona Wildcats had an up and down season. They won their first games by double digits against lesser competition, but were then crushed by UCLA and Stanford. They won two straight before they lost three straight games. They upset then #10 Utah in double overtime, before losing a shootout to rival Arizona State in the season finale. Arizona would end the season with a win over New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl to finish 7-6.
Fifteen starters are back for coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wildcats had an explosive offense but the defense struggled last year. The defense must get better if this team is going to be taken seriously.
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Arizona averaged 495 yards per game and 37 points per game. The Wildcats average 273 passing yards and 223 rushing yards per game. Arizona was in the top 30 nationally in all four categories. Co-Coordinators Rod Smith and Calvin Magee get seven starters back.
Junior quarterback Anu Solomon was brilliant during his freshman year. He had two concussions last year as a sophomore though and his passing numbers dropped. He passed for 2,667 yards with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He also rushed for 198 yards and 3 touchdowns. Sophomore Brandon Dawkins and Khalil Tate have been competing to back him up. Jerrard Randall has graduated. He threw for 518 yards with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and rushed for 702 yards with 5 touchdowns.
Running Back Jared Baker has also graduated after rushing for 798 yards and 9 touchdowns, and making 11 catches with a touchdown. Like Solomon, Nick Wilson had a very nice freshman year but struggled with injury as a sophomore last year. He had 133 carries for 725 yards and 8 touchdowns last year, down from 1,375 yards as a freshman. Orlando Bradford will also get some carries and could usurp Wilson as the starter if Wilson is injury prone again.
Arizona loses their top two receivers in Cayleb Jones (55 catches, 904 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Johnny Jackson (50 catches, 612 yards and 5 touchdowns.) Jones is with the Philadelphia Eagles now. David Richards is now with the Los Angeles Rams. He had 43 catches for 548 yards and 6 touchdowns. Nate Phillips is back after making 44 catches for 564 yards and 4 touchdowns. Samajie Grant had 31 catches for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns. Trey Griffey and converted cornerback Cam Denson will also get some catches. Josh Kern will start at tight end.
Guard Jacob Alsadek headlines the offensive line. Tackles Layth Friekh and Gerhard de Beer could be stars in the making.
Arizona was terrible on defense last year allowing 467 yards per game including 268 passing and 199 rushing yards. The Wildcats allowed 36 points per game. They were #99 or worse nationally in all four categories out of 128 teams. Arizona gave up 30 points or more in 9 of the last 10 games, and gave up 49 points or more in five games last year.
Rodriguez fired the defensive coaches and brought in Marcel Yates as the defensive coordinator. He held the same position at Boise State. Eight starters are back but the Wildcats lose their three best defensive players, linebacker Scooby Wright, end Reggie Gilbert and safety Will Parks. The Wildcats will likely move from a 3-3-5 alignment to 4-3-4.
Sani Fuimaono moves to nose tackle from nose guard in the new alignment. Parker Zellers will also start at tackle. Luca Bruno and Justin Belknap will start at the ends. The front seven failed to generate much of a pass rush with only 27 sacks total last year. Arizona will likely have the smallest line in the PAC 12.
The arrival of graduate transfer Michael Barton, a linebacker from Cal will bolster the unit. He had 80 tackles in 2014 and will be eligible to play immediately. DeAndre’ Miller has potential but needs to remain healthy. Paul Magloire is the team’s leading returning tackler with 72 tackles, but is playing out of position due to necessity.
DaVonte Neal will start at one corner after making 63 tackles last year. Dane Cruikshank will likely start at the other corner. Cruikshank was so good in spring practice that he forced Jarvis McCall to move to safety. Tellas Jones returns to the other safety position after making 55 tackles last year. With Denson moving to receiver and the graduation of Jamar Allah, the two leading pass interceptors are no longer in the secondary. Each had three last year.
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Redshirt sophomore Josh Pollack takes over as the kicker. Arizona will also break in a new punter in Matt Aragon. Nate Phillips will return punts and Tyrell Johnson will return kicks again.
Schedule and Outlook
Arizona opens the season in Glendale, AZ against BYU, before home games against Grambling State and Hawaii. The next five games are brutal to open PAC 12 play. They host Washington, before traveling to UCLA and Utah, and then hosting USC and Stanford. The last four games are less daunting with road games at Washington State and Colorado, and home games against Oregon State and Arizona State.
If Solomon and Wilson can remain healthy in 2016, the offense could be back to the level of the team that played in the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. The defense will likely struggle again and that could spell trouble. With such a brutal schedule, the Wildcats could easily lose 8 games. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say they win five games, but even six wins would take an upset or two.
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