3-9, 1-8 in Conference
Key Wins: Arizona State
Key Losses: None
In 2014, Rich Rodriguez had a successful Year 3, typically a temperature-taking year as far as college football coaches go. The Wildcats topped out at #8 in the land and had double digit wins for the first time in 15 years. Led by Anu Solomon at quarterback and Nick Wilson at running back, the Cats beat #2 Oregon (who would go on to appear in the National Championship), #20 Utah, and #13 Arizona State and appeared in their first BCS bowl in a tight loss to Boise State. That would be their only BCS/New Year’s Six bowl appearance thus far. In 2016, the Wildcats went 3-9. They finished last in the Pac-12 in scoring (24.9 points per game) largely due to the aforementioned Solomon getting injured in their fourth game.
Solomon has since transferred to Baylor and I’m not sure there is a more grave indictment of the state of the program. Baylor, as many might have heard, had one of the most vile instances of a loss of institutional control that the NCAA has ever seen. The Bears were only able to hang onto one recruit through the turmoil and nearly everyone in the football program was replaced. Yet, Solomon still decided that Baylor was the program that could best showcase his talents. Unfortunately for Arizona, this is only a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.
Coach: Rich Rodriguez
Rich Rodriguez is not an unknown name in the coaching world. In 2007, he put together one of the most devastating offenses college football has ever seen (he would later be lightly investigated for improper practices surrounding recruiting). Michigan, seeing his success, poached him from his alma mater in hopes that he could bring that dominance to one of the strongest brands in football. After three seasons with a 16-22 record, Michigan decided it was better off looking for a new coach.
Opportunistic programs pounce on coaches who once harnessed greatness who were cast off unceremoniously (see: Mike Leach and WSU, Rick Neuheisel and UCLA, South Carolina and Steve Spurrier, the list goes on). While Rodriguez had his moment in the spotlight in Tucson, he finds himself on the hot seat yet again. Many feel that he will need to show remarkable improvement to retain his spot at Arizona. With a lackluster recruiting class (6th in the South, 10th in the Pac-12), I firmly believe that he will need at least a bowl appearance to hang on for another season.
As mentioned before, Arizona had a Pac-12-worst scoring offense. Losing the quarterback that led them to new heights previously leaves them in a difficult situation. Brandon Dawkins seems to be the lead candidate for the job as he commanded the most playing time in 2016. It will be imperative that he makes a huge leap developmentally alongside a rehabbed Nick Wilson at running back for Rich Rodriguez’s offense to shine.
Arizona finished ninth in the conference with 38.3 points allowed. This must change in order to make any impact this year. On the plus side, there are only four underclassmen in the starting lineup. On the downside, three of them come in the linebacking corps: all freshmen. If the senior leadership can rally the troops, the defense can make a respectable stand. If the linebackers show their age, or if they do not remain healthy (the last two years has resembled a hospital ward), expect their opponents to wreck them in the short to medium yard gains as they are certainly going to try to pick on each and every one of them.
Projected Record: 4-8
The Pac-12 South has yet to win the Pac-12 Championship Game (Oregon, Stanford, and Washington have won all of them). In 2017, USC, UCLA, Colorado, and Utah pose formidable threats to the crown. On top of the South’s emergence, Arizona has scheduled Houston and are catching Oregon, Oregon State, Cal, and Washington State. Of those five, I fully expect three, maybe four, losses. I predict Rich Rodriguez will be on to greener pastures (literally, and metaphorically) as Arizona tries to look for a new person to lead them to adequacy.