2014 CFN Preview - Arizona Wildcats
Arizona WR Austin Hill
Preview 2014 - The foundation is set, now it's time to be better than 8-5 (Getty Images)
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- 2014 Arizona Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players
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The foundation has been poured for the Wildcats after back-to-back 8-5 seasons. Now, Arizona wants to build toward a Pac-12 South crown.
Head coach: Rich Rodriguez
3rd year: 16-10
21st year overall: 136-94-2
Off. 19, Def. 21, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 19
1. WR Austin Hill, Sr.
2. Spur Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Sr.
3. LB Scooby Wright, Soph.
4. BAN Jared Tevis, Sr.
5. OT Mickey Baucus, Sr.
6. OT Fabbians Ebbele, Sr.
7. WR Nate Phillips, Soph.
8. CB Jonathan McKnight, Sr.
9. FS Jourdon Grandon, Sr.
10. DE Reggie Gilbert, Sr.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 29 UNLV
Sep. 4 at UTSA
Sep. 13 Nevada
Sep. 20 California
Sep. 27 OPEN DATE
Oct. 2 at Oregon
Oct. 11 USC
Oct. 18 OPEN DATE
Oct. 25 at Washington St
Nov. 1 at UCLA
Nov. 8 Colorado
Nov. 15 Washington
Nov. 22 at Utah
Nov. 28 Arizona State
Rich Rodriguez has done an overall solid job in his first two years in Tucson, highlighted by a signature upset of Oregon last Nov. 23 and a bowl blowout of Boston College. The coach's read-option—along with coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack—are now fully functional, and three recruiting classes have allowed the staff to get their kinds of kids on campus. What's next for the only original Pac-10 program to have never played in the Rose Bowl Game?
RichRod has succeeded so far in changing the culture of a program that was steeped in mediocrity before he arrived. Still, eight-win seasons will only get a coach so far, especially when the in-state rival is winning 10 games and a division crown. And all of the coaches know it. Their biggest challenge this offseason has been retooling a backfield that'll be without veteran QB B.J. Denker and RB Ka'Deem Carey, the nation's second-leading rusher a year ago.
The Wildcats have averaged at least 30 points in each of the last three seasons. Continuing that trend, though, mandates that a quarterback and a running back emerge from the crowd of contenders. Both positions remained inconclusive at the end of spring.
For the third straight year, Arizona will be breaking in a new starting quarterback. The challengers include strong-armed USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, LSU transfer Jerrard Randall and Texas transfer Connor Brewer. Whoever gets the nod will be throwing to one of the country's best wide receiver corps, a deep unit getting a major boost from the healthy return of senior star Austin Hill.
Casteel has made strides with the defense, reducing its points per game allowed from 35 in 2012 to 24 in 2013. The coach, though, is far from done making gains with his kids. Casteel needs his D to be tougher, at the point of attack, against the run and in the red zone. Arizona could struggle versus north-south running teams in 2014 now that four starting members of the front six have graduated.
In stark contrast to his disastrous tenure in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez is ahead of schedule in Tucson. He's capped eight-win seasons with bowl victories to create an air of optimism in the desert. If the Wildcats are to remain on the current track, they'll have to get the backfield figured out before UNLV visits on Aug. 29.
What to watch for on offense: Certain wide receivers will get a chance to play running back. The ‘Cats have an embarrassment of riches on the outside. All-star Austin Hill is back from injury. So, too, are last year's young stars, Nate Phillips, Trey Griffey and Samajie Grant. Oh, and Texas transfer Cayleb Jones and Notre Dame transfer DaVonte' Neal are itching to finally get on the field. Neal is a candidate for carries, injecting some speed and wiggle into a backfield that could be forced to lean on a committee in 2014.
What to watch for on defense: The other corner. Jonathan McKnight has one cornerback spot under lock and key. And the three safeties are senior returning starters. But who replaces Shaquille Richardson? Sophomore Devin Holliday, who lettered in his debut out of Mission Hills (Calif.) High School, has the early edge. He has plenty of potential, but that won't keep opposing quarterbacks from targeting the 5-10, 156-pounder until he makes them pay. Even if Holliday is up to the challenge, the Wildcats have depth concerns that were exacerbated by backup Derek Babiash's abrupt departure from school on Apr. 15.
The team will be far better if… the defense takes another step forward. The ‘Cats improved in 2013, but resting on laurels will not be acceptable. In fact, Jeff Casteel's D might have to pull even more of the weight this fall, since the offense is one big question mark. Looking at Arizona's five defeats from a year ago reveals breakdowns on defense, especially against the run. Those holes need to be plugged, because Ka'Deem Carey is no longer around to hoist the team on his shoulders.
The Schedule: The Wildcats start out the year going Mountain West hosting UNLV and Nevada around a Conference USA game at UTSA – they're not exactly challenging themselves. Starting out the Pac-12 season against Cal at home is nice, making it three home games in the first four, and then the fun begins going to Oregon for a Thursday night revenge game showdown for the Ducks. The USC game is at home, but going on the road to face UCLA could be the key to the Pac-12 South season. It's a huge help to finish up with three home games in the final four, hosting Colorado and Washington while going to Utah for an easy end of November. The Arizona State rivalry showdown is at home.
Best offensive player: Senior WR Austin Hill. Had Hill not torn his ACL last spring, there's very good chance he'd have spent this latest spring auditioning for NFL scouts. He's going to play at the next level. But first, he'll use his final year of college eligibility to prove he's all the way back. In so doing, Hill will also be supporting the development of Arizona's new starting quarterback, whoever that might be. The 6-3, 210-pound is an easy target out of the slot, with the extra gear to abuse safeties down the seam of the defense.
Best defensive player: Senior Spur Tra'Mayne Bondurant. Full speed. It's the only speed Bondurant knows. The fourth-year starter is ideally suited to play the ‘spur', a blend of safety and linebacker in the Wildcat D. He gets to the ball quickly, in run defense and pass defense, using his instincts and his athleticism to be near the fray at all times. Bondurant's experience and playmaking ability are critical to the success of the defense, because he does so many things well, and because he helps so many teammates around him.
Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Jesse Scroggins. During Rodriguez's first two seasons, he got clutch performances out of first-time starting senior quarterbacks, Matt Scott in 2012 and B.J. Denker in 2013. Scroggins needs to make it three in a row this fall. Based on spring first-team reps, he's the closest thing to a frontrunner for the job, though absolutely nothing is guaranteed at this point. Scroggins needs to change the dynamic this summer by capturing the job and ending the speculation as soon as possible. The longer the Wildcats face uncertainty behind center, the worse it is for the offense and the program. Arizona needs a face for the attack … the sooner the better.
The season will be a success if ... a third-straight eight-win season includes a victory over Arizona State. There's no shame in finishing three games over .500 for three straight years, especially since the Wildcats haven't pulled off that feat since the mid-1980s. And it won't qualify as a rut, because the team has large holes to fill at quarterback and running back in 2014. The only thing that will sully another 8-5 finish in Tucson is if Arizona falls to the hated Sun Devils for a third consecutive November.
Key game: Nov. 28 vs. Arizona State. In 2012, the Wildcats blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead at home. Last fall, the Sun Devils annihilated the ‘Cats, 58-21. Rich Rodriguez needs to win a Duel in the Desert in the worst possible way, especially with the game returning to Tucson this season. If Arizona is unable to hold serve at home, the program is going to lose some traction within the state, particularly as it pertains to landing some of the region's better recruits.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Rushing touchdowns: Arizona 36 – Opponents 18
- Scoring: Arizona 33.5 – Opponents 24.2
- Third-down percentage: Arizona 47% - Opponents 39%
- 2014 Arizona Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players