Today at No. 35: Arizona
Coach: Rich Rodriguez (36-29, entering sixth season; 156-113-2
2016 record: 3-9, 1-8 in Pac-12 Conference, finished sixth in South
Look back: Arizona failed to qualify for a bowl for the first time
since 2011. The three-win season was the worst in a five-year
stretch under Rich Rodriguez and the worst Wildcats record since
2005. Much of the team’s struggles stemmed from an offense that
finished last in the Pac-12 in scoring (24.8 points per game) while
finishing near the bottom of the league in passing offense (178
yards per game).
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: WR Nate Phillips, WR Trey Griffey, OL Samajie Grant,
OL Freddie Tagaloa, DT Sani Fuimaono, LB Paul Magloire Jr., LB
Top returnees: QB Brandon Dawkins, RB Nick Wilson, WR Shun
Brown, DE Justin Belknap, DL Parker Zellers, LB DeAndre Miller,
FS Isaiah Hayes, CB Dane Cruikshank, CB Jace Whittaker
Strengths: Despite its struggles on offense , Arizona produced the
top rushing offense in the Pac-12, with the Wildcats averaging 235
yards per game. QB Brandon Dawkins led the way with 944 yards
and a 7.21 yards per carry average. Arizona has an assortment of
talented tailbacks to share the workload, including senior Nick
Wilson, who is two years removed from a 1,300-yard season, and
freshman J.J. Taylor. Both were limited by injuries, but they are
expected to bounce back in a big way in 2017.
Weaknesses: Arizona suffered through its worst offensive season
under Rodriguez, with the quarterback position taking a noticeable
step backward. Dawkins took over the offense in Week 2 and while
he gave the offense a bit of a spark, the sophomore struggled with
his accuracy and completed just 53 percent of his passes.
Sophomore Khalil Tate pushed Dawkins this spring and both
players are battling for the starting job entering preseason camp.
Three of the top four receivers from 2016 are gone, leaving a
massive drop in returning production. Junior Shun Brown led the
team with 521 yards on 29 catches, and he’ll be called upon to lead
the group as it develops an identity heading into 2017.
Arizona has slid backward defensively the past three season, with
the Wildcats giving up nearly 40 points per game and more than
6.1 yards per play last season. Not surprisingly, the unit failed to
land a single player on the preseason All-Pac 12 team. The front
Outlook: The program finds itself at a bit of a crossroads. Arizona
never got off to the kind of start that it wanted last season and the
Wildcats never made up ground. The offense was too onedimensional
and must find more consistency at quarterback.
Injuries hampered the defense and lack of depth at some positions
could still be a concern. A quick start is almost a necessity,
especially considering a November slate that features road games
against USC, Oregon and Arizona State.