All spring and summer long,
I seem to be getting the same questions from Wildcat fans, "How is the football team going to do?" I always give them the same answer, "If they can find a quarterback and a defensåive line then they can win nine or 10."
While most have Arizona pegged for fourth place in the Pac-12 South and somewhere between sixth and eighth overall, I think there is a chance the Wildcats could exceed those expectations. The Wildcats have several things working in their favor for a good run in 2014.
The Wildcats have a schedule that has several advantages. First and foremost, they play seven home games. This could have been eight, but they will travel to San Antonio to play Texas San Antonio in a game that was scheduled back when Mike Stoops and his staff recruited the state more heavily than Rich Rodriguez's team does. Five of those seven home games are conference games and two of the road games, against Utah and Washington State, the Wildcats will likely be slight favorites in.
Their non-conference schedule is also weak. Although UNLV was a bowl team a year ago, the Wildcats also beat them by 45 points on the road that same season. Nevada is usually a decent football team, but are coming off of a four-win season and will be the visiting team. The road game in San Antonio does not look all that daunting either.
Arizona gets a struggling Cal team at home before a four-game stretch that will see them playing four bowl teams and maybe three of the four favorites in the conference. After the Bears come to town, Arizona will head to Oregon, host Washington State, then play at Washington State and UCLA. Survive that with a win or two, and the Cats could really be on to something.
The final four games are not easy, they host Washington and ASU, but getting a home game with Colorado and traveling to Utah.
When Rodriguez and his staff got to Tucson they inherited a number of talented players, the likes of Matt Scott, Ka'Deem Carey, Jake Fischer, etc., but also saw areas with next to no depth. The Cats had to scramble to find quarterbacks and linebackers. The overall talent level behind the top 20-25 players was also lacking.
Today the depth is nearly where the staff wants it. They have one of the most talented and deepest wide receiver corps in the nation. They have a talented, experienced line and have become a haven for transfers from elite programs.
In the end the wins will depend on the talent of the team. The upgrade over the past three years has been dramatic and this could be the most talented team to take the field since Arizona beat BYU on a chilly night at the Las Vegas Bowl. To me that was the high point of the Stoops era.
There is no Matt Scott on this team, and certainly there is no Ka'Deem Carey, but there are weapons. Whoever winds up a quarterback, be it LSU transfer Jerrod Randall, USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, Texas transfer Connor Brewer or redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, he will have players to throw to. If they can get a performance equal to or better than what B.J. Denker provided last season, then the Cats will be in good shape.
The line is solid, though maybe not as deep as the team would like. They will start at least three seniors, including a pair of tackles in Fabbians Ebelle and Mickey Baucus that will be four-year starters.
The only real question is on the defensive line. Although the Wildcats return three players who played last year, three more freshman who redshirted, two players who spent the last two years on LDS missions and three transfers, two junior college players and LSU transfer Jordan Allen.
Linebacker looks solid, Scooby Wright returns as a starter and will get help from fellow sophomores Derek Turituri, De'Andre Miller and Jake Matthews, as well as junior Keoni Bush-Loo and junior college transfer Antonio Smothers.
Five players who made starts in the defensive backfield also return, and the battle at safety could be very interesting as junior Will Parks was the bowl game MVP, but played behind Jared Tevis much of last year.