Well, hello Arizona. Welcome to the party.
The Arizona Wildcats got some outstanding news on June 17 when the Tucson City Prosecutor's Office dropped all charges against star running back Ka'Deem Carey.
The junior running back was facing misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges after an incident with his former girlfriend in December. The office released a statement which said that "a key witness for the prosecution is unavailable and even if the witness were available, there is no substantial likelihood that a judge would convict Mr. Carey," according to the Associated Press.
Carey led the nation with 1,929 rushing yards last season and set a school record 23 touchdowns, but his status for this season, which had been a question mark due to his legal problems, is now an exclamation mark.
This season Arizona's offense returns six starters and the defense returns 11. The team will be without quarterback Matt Scott, who led the league with 3,620 passing yards and 27 touchdowns, and receiver Austin Hill, who tore his ACL in the spring. Hill was the league's second-leading receiver.
Without Carey in the backfield, the team would have been without veteran leadership in its skill positions. It was unlikely Carey would have been suspended all year if the charges had stuck, but there was a possibility of him missing the first few games of the season. With the consensus first team All-American now cleared of all charges, Arizona and the Pac-12 look a lot more intriguing.
Three of Arizona's signature wins last year came against Oklahoma State, Washington and USC. Carey rushed for over 100 yards in each of those games. This year the Wildcats will be breaking in a new quarterback and a new go-to receiver.
They will not be breaking in a new running back.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez is in a better position to take some pressure off of his unnamed starting quarterback. B.J. Denker and Jesse Scroggins are battling for the starting spot to run Rodriguez' spread offense.
If Arizona can establish the running game early, the passing game will open up. If Carey picks up where he left off—in his his last four regular season games he rushed for at least 170 yards in every game—the new quarterback may not be pressed into passing as quickly as originally thought.
The Wildcats have four weeks to ease their new quarterback into Rodriguez' offense. They open with Northern Arizona and then play at UNLV and host UTSA before taking their bye week on September 21.
The offense should be clicking and Carey should be near the top of the rushing leaderboard by late September. If the defense can improve upon last year's dreadful numbers, Arizona should be in good shape to challenge for the Pac-12 South.
Carey may even get more national attention. Last year Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the 2012 Heisman Trophy—Carey received two Heisman votes. If Carey repeats as the nation's leading rusher, he should receive more votes this year.
Having Carey cleared of all charges is a game changer.
Ka'Deem may leave echoes of Ka'Boom as he gallops through the Pac-12.