CFN Preview 2013 - Arizona Wildcats
Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey
Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey
Posted Jul 12, 2013 2013 Preview - Arizona Wildcats

 Arizona Wildcats

Preview 2013

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- By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Rich Rodriguez
2nd year: 8-5
Returning Lettermen
Off. 22, Def. 29, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best Arizona Players
1. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr.
2. LB Jake Fischer, Sr.
3. LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.
4. S Tra'mayne Bondurant, Jr.
5. LT Mickey Baucus, Jr.
6. RT Fabbians Ebbele, Jr.
7. S Jared Tevis, Jr.
8. NT Tevin Hood, Sr.
9. WR David Richards, Soph.
10. CB Shaquille Richardson, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Northern Arizona
9/7 at UNLV
9/14 UTSA
9/28 at Washington
10/10 at USC
10/19 Utah
10/26 at Colorado
11/2 at California
11/9 UCLA
11/16 Washington State
11/23 Oregon
11/30 at Arizona State
And they're off.

Arizona got off to a fast start in the debut of Rich Rodriguez on the sidelines, capping an 8-5 season with an exciting comeback win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. It wasn't Pasadena, but it wasn't bad either, considering the school was coming off a 4-8 campaign, and wasn't exactly flush with ready-made talent.

Rodriguez and his staff have sufficiently laid the ground floor in Tucson, a foundation on which the future will be built. Patience, despite last year's flashes of prosperity, is still highly recommended. The excitement and optimism surrounding this program is real. So, too, is the dearth of talent compared to those schools seriously contending for Pac-12 championships.

The 2013 squad has one bona fide star, RB Ka'Deem Carey, and a whole lot of question marks on both sides of the ball. The offense, fueled by Rodriguez's run-heavy read-option, remains ahead of a D that was thoroughly overmatched last season. Yet, the Cats still need to replace Matt Scott at quarterback, mine a go-to receiver and solidify the interior of the line. Carey is a next-level back, but support may not be as consistent as it was in 2012.

Jeff Casteel's defense has to be stingier than it was last fall, when no Pac-12 team, not even Wazzu, was more generous. Hope comes from the returns of, well, just about everyone. However, the reality is that Arizona is going to need another recruiting class or two before it has the necessary depth and talent to have a chance against some of the better attacks in the league. The Cats could surprise up the middle, with Tevin Hood at nose tackle and Jake Fisher and Marquis Flowers at linebacker. All bets are off, though, if Casteel can't coach up one or two of his holdovers into an unruly pass rusher.

Unlike his ill-fated tenure in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez is already ahead of schedule in Tucson. The coach has a bowl win on the brag sheet and the unbridled support of the locals. There's a buzz again surrounding Arizona football, which will positively affect all areas of the program. While the Cats still have a long way to go, simply heading in the right direction is a welcome development in these parts.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback competition. The coaching staff did an outstanding job of preparing Matt Scott for the 2012 season. This summer's objective will be to not only coach up the successors, but also figure out who gets the ball in the opener. Last year's backup, B.J. Denker, possesses the athleticism that the team likes. Former USC QB Jesse Scroggins is the best passer. Rookie Anu Solomon represents the future. Someone will need to step up and provide balance in the passing game to the running of star back Ka'Deem Carey.

What to watch for on defense: More bouquets for Flowers. While it got lost in the ills of the rest of the defense, Marquis Flowers completed a very successful shift from safety to linebacker in 2012. The 6-3, 229-pounder has always had the requisite size for the position, but not the experience. Yet, that lack of reps at linebacker couldn't prevent him from racking up 100 tackles, 13 stops for loss, 5.5 sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Now that Flowers has a full season at strongside in the rear view mirror, it'll be harder for observers and all-league voters to overlook his ability.

The team will be far better if… the defense isn't such a pushover this season. The Wildcats didn't allow fewer than 38 points in any of last year's losses, placing an immense amount of pressure on the offense. Arizona isn't going to be confused with Stanford anytime soon. Still, the defense has to start making more stops, especially on third down and in the red zone, if the team is going to elevate to a higher level of competitiveness. The offense should be fine as long as Rich Rodriguez is in charge. It's that D that holds the long-term fate of the Cats in its hand.

The Schedule: It's a sneaky-tough schedule with just enough tough road games sprinkled in between a slew of layups to make it difficult to come up with a great year. A 3-0 start is a mortal lock playing Northern Arizona, at UNLV and UTSA before getting a week off to prepare for the Pac-12 opener against Washington. There's an unnecessary second week off before mid-October, and the Wildcats need to use it before going on an eight-week run with no breaks the rest of the way.

There are three road games in four weeks starting with the trip to USC, but the next three games are the must wins getting Utah and going to Colorado and California. UCLA and Oregon come to Tucson, and getting a split would be nice with Washington State and the season finale against Arizona State making it an interesting finishing kick. The team doesn't leave the state over the final four weeks.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Ka'Deem Carey. Carey plus the read-option wound up being a very happy marriage in Tucson. It's a good thing for the locals that the honeymoon isn't over. Carey has two years of eligibility remaining, though it's doubtful he'll use both. He erupted in his first season as a full-timer, vaulting to All-American status by rushing for an FBS-high 1,929 yards and 23 scores on 303 carries. In a microcosm of the offense's balance, he also caught 36 passes for 303 yards and another touchdown. If Carey remains focused and disciplined in 2013, he'll have a chance to be one of the first backs drafted next April.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Jake Fischer. You can't size up a player like Fischer on numbers alone, though his numbers were terrific in 2012. The inspirational leader of the D registered a team-high 119 tackles last fall to go along with 6.5 stops for loss, four fumble recoveries and three fumbles. Fischer is a study in perseverance, overcoming modest size and a serious knee injury in 2011 to become the Wildcats' most important defender. He may never play in the NFL, but leading the Pac-12 in tackles this fall is a goal that won't be out of reach.

Key players to a successful season: The D-line. Arizona has to improve on defense. And the fastest way to turn the corner with a marginally talented unit is to wreak havoc whenever and wherever it's possible. After finishing 116th and 108th nationally in sacks the past two seasons, the Wildcats have got to find a way to generate more heat. If the pass defense wasn't so vulnerable, more blitzes could be called. Instead, Arizona will need the linemen to start doing their jobs by beating blocks and routinely pressuring the quarterback.

The season will be a success if ... Arizona matches last year's eight-win total. The talent level in Tucson may be similar to that of last year's, but a second season running the offensive and defensive systems will be beneficial to both the coaches and the players. The Cats figure to get off to a fast start, facing Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA in the first three games. Hosting Oregon on Nov. 23 is obviously a very tall order, but Arizona should be able to compete every other weekend. Progress occurs if this team bowls again, and never slips below the .500 mark during the season.

Key game: Nov. 30 at Arizona State. Unless one of the combatants is competing for a Rose Bowl berth, no game on the schedule is more important than the annual "Duel in the Desert". In the battle of first-year head coaches last November, Arizona State's Todd Graham got the best of Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, thanks to a fourth-quarter rally in Tucson. Rodriguez would love nothing more than to return the favor this season at Sun Devil Stadium.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Penalty yards per game: Arizona 55.1 – Opponents 91.4
- Sacks: Arizona 16 – Opponents 18
- First-quarter scoring: Arizona 63 - Opponents 90
- 2013 Arizona Preview | 2013 Arizona Offense
- 2013 Arizona Defense | 2013 Arizona Depth Chart