Arizona is one of the three teams in the Pac-12 South bringing in a new coach. In my opinion, it is the best hire of the three.
Rich Rodriguez had great success at West Virginia with his speed option offense in the Big East. It wasn’t right for the more traditional Big Ten, but I think it is something that can work in the Pac-12. He brings coordinators Calvin Magee, Rod Smith and Jeff Casteel, who have been working with him or for him for years.
Running the offense will be senior quarterback Matt Scott. He hasn’t played in a game in over a year, but he brings the right skill set for the new offense. Unfortunately, that might be the end of the good news for the offense.
The rest of the skill positions don’t have much in the way of experience. At running back, they lose team rushing leader, Keola Antolin. The top returning rusher is Ka’Deem Carey who had less than 500 yards.
Arizona also loses four of their top five receivers. The top three are gone, and senior Dan Buckner leads the returning receivers with just over 600 yards.
I’m honestly not sure what to make of the offensive line. They return pretty well in tact and deep, but there are a couple questions due to some off-field issues and injuries. There is also the matter of switching from an offense that threw the ball all over the field and pass blocked for the majority to a run-first offense. I think this unit will be better this year than last; I just don’t know by how much.
The defense is changing just as much as the offense. They will be running a 3-3-5 stack defense. Up front should be fine with Sione Tulhalamaka and Justin Washington. The two have enough experience that no matter who else is playing up there with them, the line will be solid.
Linebacker hasn’t been the best area for the Wildcats, but getting Jake Fischer back will help. Fischer missed last season due to a knee injury. The rest of the group will be any number of players with some playing time, but no one I would call a star.
I would have to guess that having five players in the secondary should help their pass defense rating. Unfortunately, this unit isn’t very strong. Adam Hall was lost in the spring game thanks to a knee injury, and he was considered the best player in the secondary. Now to fill in the five spots, the Arizona is going to have to put in some players who have talent, size, speed and experience, but also questions. Can Marquis Flowers play at a consistent level? Is Jonathan McKnight ready to comeback from injury?
Special teams left a lot to be desired last season. The kicking game was horrible until John Bonano came in at mid season. The punting was good, but I don’t know if that is something to brag about. Returning wasn’t very strong either. What they do have going for them is that Bonano, punter Kyle Dugandzic and the top punt and kick return men are all returning. That’s a lot of experience.
There will be much retooling for Arizona on both sides of the ball. The new coaching staff will have to learn a new conference and new opponents. I feel like Arizona with Rodriguez at the helm should be able to at least get to bowl eligible and vie for one of the conferences lower tier bowl games.