Last season was tough for Arizona. A year after winning the Pac-12 South and reaching 10 wins, the Wildcats faltered to a 3-6 Conference record and just 7-6 overall record after beating New Mexico in their bowl Game. Some of those losses were due to the many injuries the team endured, but also a weak defense that has been a problem even in successful seasons.
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Those injuries were highlighted on the offensive side at quarterback and running back. Anu Solomon has the tools to be a Game breaker at quarterback as seen in his first two years, but injuries derailed him from having a more successful 2015. Still, he finished with a solid 20 passing TDs and just five interceptions. If healthy, he could be one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 this year. The same can be said for running back Nick Wilson, who had his numbers cut in half last year due to injuries. He was hurt for half the season yet finished with 725 yards and 8 TDs. If either guy gets hurt, there are able options, but surely not as good ones (although backup QB Brandon Dawkins is gaining buzz).
The Wildcats lost a few guys at receiver, but still have plenty of talent to go around with Nate Phillips (564 yards, 4 TDs) and Samajie Grant, as well as Trey Griffey, who had a great offseason according to the coaches. The offensive line has a couple beasts led by cornerstone guard Jake Alsadek and should be a strong suit of the offense.
Defensively is where Arizona has to improve though and that’s why they brought in coordinator Marcel Yates from Boise State. The Wildcats have a lot of returning starters, so that should help, and Yates plans on being as aggressive as possible.
SCooby Wright is gone so that’s an immediate issue, but it looks like Paul Magloire will step into that spot as do-it-all linebacker. Other backers like DeAndre’ Miller and Cody Ippolito should find roles in a new, more aggressive defense. The line has experience to start with under Yates and that should help a bit in learning a new scheme and the same can be said about the secondary. As Arizona didn’t have a spring Game, Yates’ defensive scheme hasn’t been made public so it’s no telling how this group will look in the fall.
The good news for the Wildcats is that their non-Conference Schedule sets up nicely into Pac-12 play. With a win against BYU in the opener, Arizona could start 3-0 or 4-0 again. But from there is when things get difficult as October’s slate includes road Games at UCLA and Utah followed by home contests against USC and Stanford. Just like last year, the Wildcats could lose to all those teams and find themselves in a hole. But to get above that bump, they have Four winnable Games to close the year, which Rich Rodriguez will be looking to do. However, if they deal with injuries again, that may not be possible.
The Pac-12 South is said to be wide open, with Arizona having the Fourth-best odds to win it. However, those odds are extremely enticing, especially if Solomon and Wilson can stay healthy throughout the season. If that happens, Arizona could easily win the South. Their over/under for the entire season is at 7.5 Games (at 5Dimes) and is definitely attainable… if healthy.
2016 Arizona Wildcats Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. BYU (University of Phoenix Stadium)
Sept. 10 vs. Grambling State
Sept. 17 vs. Hawaii
Sept. 24 vs. Washington
Oct. 1 at UCLA
Oct. 8 at Utah
Oct. 15 vs. USC
Oct. 29 vs. Stanford
Nov. 5 at Washington State
Nov. 12 vs. Colorado
Nov. 19 at Oregon State
Nov. 25 vs. Arizona State