Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Ahead of schedule
Rodriguez was, by most accounts, a lovely hire who has proven he can win big at a school outside of football's top tier (he also proved that he might struggle to win at a blue-blood school like Michigan, but that's another story entirely). Between injuries, depth issues, another rugged schedule, and some serious stylistic changes, the Wildcats probably aren't a threat to win as quickly as other conference mates with first-year coaches (Washington State, Arizona State and UCLA, to name three), but in a few years we should be able to pretty clearly determine whether Arizona's ceiling is where Mike Stoops thinks it is, or whether there is room for a bit more growth. [...]
Arizona could sneak out a 6-6 season (or, technically, even 7-5) if things play out perfectly, but it should not be expected.
Arizona's hire of Rodriguez, and Rodriguez's hire of Casteel, were both strong long-term moves. Combined with the stadium upgrades, Pac-12 Network money, and Rodriguez's offensive proficiency, the long-term prognosis for the Arizona program is strong, and it is quite possible that the ceiling under Rodriguez will be higher than that under Mike Stoops. But 2012 will probably be a redshirt year of sorts: learn, grow, and worry about production and wins in 2013.
Whoops. In Rich Rodriguez's first season as head coach in Tucson, he not only sneaked out a 7-5 season, he won an eighth game (the bowl win over Nevada) and, with three close losses, came close to even higher heights.
After some serious slippage in Mike Stoops' final season -- Arizona fell to 79th in the 2011 F/+ rankings after placing between 21st and 38th in each of the previous four seasons -- Rodriguez was able to immediately reestablish the Wildcats' previous level of play. They improved from 30th to 11th in Off. F/+ and from 105th to 68th in Def. F/+; they rose by 41 spots overall, the eighth-best improvement of 2012 and the third-best in the conference behind Oregon State (88th to 18th, first overall) and UCLA (85th to 35th, fifth overall). That's not a bad first year.
Things perhaps get a little bit tricky in 2013; while the defense returns nearly everybody of consequence, the offense must replace its quarterback (Matt Scott) and perhaps its stud receiver (Austin Hill, who tore his ACL in the spring). The overall depth should be quite a bit more impressive than what Rodriguez inherited a year ago, but the star power might have dropped a notch or two.
Still, even if Arizona does take a step backwards in 2013 -- a common occurrence following a surge -- Rodriguez found himself ahead of schedule with a great 2012. In a conference where seemingly every program is improving or holding steady, Arizona kept pace last year and could be well-positioned to do so in the future.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 38|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Toledo||24-17||W||32.7 - 15.0||W|
|8-Sep||Oklahoma State||59-38||W||33.1 - 27.1||W|
|15-Sep||S.C. State||56-0||W||33.8 - 10.9||W|
|22-Sep||at Oregon||0-49||L||19.7 - 22.6||L|
|29-Sep||Oregon State||35-38||L||43.8 - 36.4||W|
|6-Oct||at Stanford||48-54||L||48.0 - 49.4||L|
|20-Oct||Washington||52-17||W||46.4 - 26.1||W|
|27-Oct||USC||39-36||W||36.2 - 34.1||W|
|3-Nov||at UCLA||10-66||L||14.4 - 37.3||L|
|10-Nov||Colorado||56-31||W||48.0 - 43.0||W|
|17-Nov||at Utah||34-24||W||37.4 - 34.1||W|
|23-Nov||Arizona State||34-41||L||36.3 - 25.4||W|
|15-Dec||vs. Nevada||49-48||W||35.5 - 30.1||W|
|Points Per Game||38.2||16||35.3||105|
|Adj. Points Per Game||35.8||15||30.1||84|
2. Fun and a mid-season funk
There just wasn't a lot of fun in Tucson in 2011. The Wildcats were destroyed by a brutal early schedule (they faced Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, and USC -- combined record: 45-7 -- in consecutive weeks, then fell apart) and humbled by a defense that gave them pretty consistent deficits.
In 2012, however, the fun returned. The Wildcats averaged 38 points per game, scoring at least 48 points seven times and playing in six games decided by one possession. They took down USC at home (a feat that seemed a lot more impressive at the time) and beat two bowl teams (Oklahoma State and Washington) by a combined 56 points at home. In fact, if not for a mid-season defensive lull, they could have threatened for the Pac-12 South title.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Arizona 33.2, Opponent 17.7 (plus-14.5)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 6 games): Arizona 34.8, Opponent 34.3 (plus-0.5)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Arizona 39.3, Opponent 33.2 (plus-6.1)
Tight, high-scoring losses to Oregon State and Stanford prevented Arizona from getting involved in the South race, but this was still a hell of a turnaround, especially considering the style change that occurred (particularly on defense) when Rodriguez took the reins from Stoops.
|Q1 Rk||38||1st Down Rk||38|
|Q2 Rk||11||2nd Down Rk||9|
|Q3 Rk||5||3rd Down Rk||9|
3. Arizona did not win the offseason
Sometimes your team disappears into the background in the offseason, briefly emerging for spring practice reports, playing in a pleasantly dull spring game, then going back underground. This is what you prefer; the more offseason entertainment, the worse off your team will probably be.
In this way, Arizona made a few too many headlines this offseason. First, Ka'Deem Carey, who erupted for huge numbers in 2012, was charged with domestic violence almost immediately after Arizona's season ended. Then, Austin Hill, who also erupted for huge numbers in 2012, tore his ACL in spring ball. Hill's return date is uncertain, but it is certainly conceivable that he will miss the 2013 season. Suddenly, instead of simply replacing star quarterback Matt Scott, who had served as a perfect stylistic bridge from Stoops to Rodriguez, the Wildcats were looking at replacing all three offensive stars.
The news has improved of late, however. Carey saw his charges dropped last month, and former Notre Dame star recruit Davonte Neal decided to move closer to home and transferred to UA. He has applied to become immediately eligible, and while my sense is that his appeal will not be granted, I'll be honest: I'm never right when it comes to guessing NCAA eligibility decisions. It's like predicting a coin flip.
So in the end, the news certainly could have been worse for UA. Still, Hill's return is somewhere between unknown and unlikely, and that's a blow.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|B.J. Denker||6'3, 173||Sr.||NR||25||37||259||67.6%||3||1||5||11.9%||6.0|
| Nick Isham
(2011 Louisiana Tech)
|6'0, 190||So.||*** (5.6)||155||257||1,457||60.3%||8||7||19||6.9%||4.8|
|Jesse Scroggins (USC)||6'3, 210||Jr.||**** (5.9)|
|Javelle Allen||6'2, 223||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Anu Solomon||6'1, 202||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
4. Replacing Scott
Rich Rodriguez crafted his football reputation with the run; when you think of RichRod offenses, you think of Woody Dantzler (Clemson), Pat White (West Virginia) and Denard Robinson (Michigan), three incredibly gifted quarterbacks whose running abilities were maximized in Rodriguez's schemes.
Whereas it took him a year to get his offensive pieces in place at Michigan (he inherited Ryan Mallet and Steven Threet, not exactly paragons of run-first quarterbacking), he hit the jackpot with Matt Scott, a reasonably efficient passer who could serve as a decent enough run threat to open things up for Carey. Scott wasn't wonderful either on the ground or through the air, but he was good enough at both to make the offense click. Unfortunately, he was a senior.
In Rodriguez's second year, he has a grab bag of quarterbacking options, none of whom combine the experience and athleticism Scott brought to the table. There's B.J. Denker, last year's backup who torched Colorado when Scott was injured but took a few too many sacks for comfort. There's USC transfer (and former blue-chipper) Jesse Scroggins, who brings a huge arm to the table but didn't exactly light the world afire this spring following an injury. There's Louisiana Tech transfer Nick Isham, an Air Raid veteran (he started briefly for new California coach Sonny Dykes in Ruston). There's beefy redshirt freshman Javelle Allen. There's even true freshman Anu Solomon, a star recruit from Las Vegas who will be given a chance to win the job this fall.
Rodriguez is probably going to field a capable offense -- it's what he does. And as he showed last year, his optimal offense is capable of both running and passing (Arizona actually trended toward the pass a bit last year), so he doesn't absolutely have to have a Denard in place to succeed. But of the multitude of quarterbacks on the roster, one will need to step up and claim the job if UA has any chance of replicating last year's numbers. One has not done so just yet.
Ka'Deem Carey. Christian Petersen, Getty.
|Ka'Deem Carey||RB||5'10, 196||Jr.||**** (5.8)||303||1,929||6.4||7.1||23||+35.4|
|Daniel Jenkins||RB||5'9, 197||Sr.||**** (5.8)||67||293||4.4||2.2||2||-3.9|
|Jared Baker||RB||5'8, 191||So.||*** (5.7)||20||85||4.3||2.6||1||-2.3|
|B.J. Denker||QB||6'3, 173||Sr.||NR||16||79||4.9||4.1||1||-1.3|
|Richard Morrison||SLOT||5'11, 174||Sr.||*** (5.5)||5||13||2.6||2.4||0||-1.1|
|Pierre Cormier||RB||5'10, 180||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Zachary Green||RB||5'9, 210||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Austin Hill||SLOT||6'3, 210||Jr.||*** (5.7)||118||81||1364||68.6%||11.6||23.7%||66.9%||11.7||167.0|
|David Richards||WR||6'4, 201||So.||*** (5.6)||48||29||298||60.4%||6.2||9.6%||56.3%||6.2||36.5|
|Ka'Deem Carey||RB||5'10, 196||Jr.||**** (5.8)||42||36||313||85.7%||7.5||8.4%||50.0%||6.9||38.3|
|Richard Morrison||SLOT||5'11, 174||Sr.||*** (5.5)||37||23||171||62.2%||4.6||7.4%||78.4%||5.1||20.9|
|Garic Wharton||SLOT||6'0, 167||Jr.||*** (5.7)||35||20||268||57.1%||7.7||7.0%||62.9%||7.7||32.8|
|Johnny Jackson||SLOT||5'10, 176||So.||NR||34||25||187||73.5%||5.5||6.8%||61.8%||5.5||22.9|
|Terrence Miller||TE||6'4, 234||Sr.||*** (5.6)||19||13||143||68.4%||7.5||3.8%||52.6%||8.1||17.5|
|Daniel Jenkins||RB||5'9, 197||Sr.||**** (5.8)||4||4||30||100.0%||7.5||0.8%||75.0%||9.3||3.7|
|Michael Cooper||FB||6'5, 246||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Trey Griffey||WR||6'3, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
(2012 Notre Dame)
|WR||5'10, 175||So.||**** (5.9)||2||1||-5||50.0%||-2.5||0.5%||100.0%||-1.5||-0.8|
|Mickey Baucus||LT||6'8, 305||Jr.||*** (5.5)||25 career starts|
|Fabbians Ebbele||RT||6'8, 309||Jr.||*** (5.6)||25 career starts|
|Kyle Quinn||C||22 career starts|
|Chris Putton||LG||6'4, 280||Sr.||*** (5.6)||19 career starts|
|Trace Biskin||RG||17 career starts|
|Shane Zink||RG||12 career starts|
|Addison Bachman||C||4 career starts|
|Cayman Bundage||LG||6'2, 261||So.||*** (5.6)||1 career start|
|Faitele Faafoi||RG||6'4, 321||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Zach Hemmila||OL||6'3, 318||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Beau Boyster||OL||6'4, 264||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Steven Gurrola||OL||6'2, 285||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Logan Stott||OL||6'3, 300||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
5. An overachieving line rebuilds
While Scott, Carey and Hill stole the headlines, the offensive line's improvement in 2012 was stunning. Arizona ranked 119th, almost dead last in FBS, in Adj. Line Yards in 2011. Injuries and youth mixed to form a poisonous cocktail up front. But in 2012, the combination of experience and a change in coaches and style provided an almost 180-degree turnaround. Arizona ranked 19th in Adj. Line Yards last fall; and as we see above, it was strong across the board, in short yardage, in keeping opponents out of the backfield, and in creating opportunities for Carey, Scott, and company.
In 2013, two enormous, experienced tackles return, but there is quite a bit of rebuilding to be done on the interior. In players like Zach Hemmila and Logan Stott, Arizona has some interesting, young players to add to the mix, but it might be difficult to sustain last year's gains with depleted depth.
|Q1 Rk||34||1st Down Rk||50|
|Q2 Rk||76||2nd Down Rk||64|
|Q3 Rk||102||3rd Down Rk||102|
6. Going after the ball
When your offense is moving the ball and creating a ton of quick possessions, and when you live life in the Pac-12 (and play Oklahoma State, Toledo, and Nevada out of conference), there is no way to avoid giving up quite a few yards and points. And in terms of pure yards per game, Arizona allowed more than almost anybody in the country.
But don't let that fool you: The Wildcats improved quite a bit on the defensive side of the ball last year. There were certainly still issues, especially when it comes to rushing the passer (Arizona couldn't do it), but the Wildcats were average in most phases on defense, and while average is not preferable long-term, it was still an improvement.
Rodriguez possibly pulled off a coup in getting defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel to follow him West; Casteel was the engineer of some really fun, interesting 3-3-5 defenses at West Virginia under both Rodriguez and his successor (Bill Stewart). Changing to an unorthodox scheme can be awkward until you get your own personnel in place, but Arizona did still manage improvement, and that's an encouraging sign ... especially considering virtually everybody returns in 2013.
Arizona's biggest defensive strength was in simply getting its hands on the ball. The Wildcats defensed 70 passes (25th in the country) and forced 19 fumbles (ninth). They also logged a decent 66 tackles for loss. The pass rush was non-existent, and the undersized defensive line did not wreak as much havoc as Casteel would have preferred, but one could at least see what Arizona wanted to do on defense.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dan Pettinato||DT||6'4, 265||Jr.||*** (5.5)||11||28.0||3.4%||1.5||0||0||2||0||2|
|Sione Tuihalamaka||NT||6'2, 276||Sr.||*** (5.7)||13||21.5||2.6%||2||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Tevin Hood||NT||6'0, 293||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||19.5||2.3%||3||0||0||0||1||0|
|Reggie Gilbert||DE||6'4, 264||Jr.||*** (5.5)||11||15.0||1.8%||6||3.5||0||0||0||2|
|Kirifi Taula||DL||6'4, 260||Jr.||*** (5.7)||11||7.0||0.8%||2||0.2||0||0||0||0|
|Justin Washington||DE||6'2, 244||Sr.||** (5.3)|
|Kyle Kelley||DE||6'3, 250||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Dwight Melvin||DE||6'1, 273||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
7. You're only as good as your line
Casteel was able to put quite a bit of speed on the field in the back eight of the defense. Marquis Flowers made the transition from big safety to fast linebacker with ease, and there were some nice ball hawks in the secondary (namely corner Shaq Richardson and safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant). But despite overall improvement, the line still held the defense back a bit. And it's not immediately evident that things will be different in this regard in 2013.
If Reggie Gilbert can develop some more consistency, that could help; Gilbert missed part of the season with a high ankle sprain, and while six of his 15.0 tackles were behind the line of scrimmage (an impressive ratio), he still made only 15.0 tackles. But Tevin Hood is the only regular returnee bigger than 276, and it's difficult to keep the offensive line away from linebackers if you're getting pushed around too much.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jake Fischer||MLB||6'0, 222||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||97.5||11.7%||6.5||0||0||3||3||4|
|Marquis Flowers||SLB||6'3, 229||Sr.||**** (5.9)||13||78.5||9.4%||13||5.5||3||3||3||1|
|Sir Thomas Jackson||WLB||6'0, 205||So.||NR||13||44.5||5.3%||5||1.5||0||3||0||0|
|C.J. Dozier||SLB||6'2, 205||So.||*** (5.7)||9||22.0||2.6%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Hank Hobson||WLB||6'3, 236||Jr.||*** (5.5)||7||12.0||1.4%||2||1||0||0||0||0|
|Dakota Conwell||MLB||6'2, 217||So.||*** (5.5)||10||9.5||1.1%||3||1||0||2||0||0|
|Keoni Bush-Loo||LB||6'4, 229||So.||** (5.4)||12||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|DeAndre Miller||LB||6'2, 230||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jared Tevis||BANDIT||5'10, 197||Jr.||NR||11||66.5||8.0%||1||0||2||6||4||0|
|Tra'Mayne Bondurant||SPUR||5'10, 188||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||61.5||7.4%||11.5||0||2||7||2||0|
|Jourdon Grandon||FS||6'0, 192||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||48.0||5.8%||0.5||0||1||6||1||1|
|Shaquille Richardson||CB||6'1, 182||Sr.||*** (5.7)||13||47.5||5.7%||2||0||1||14||1||1|
|Derick Rainey||CB||6'1, 181||Sr.||** (5.4)||13||42.0||5.0%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Jonathan McKnight||CB||5'11, 167||Jr.||*** (5.6)||13||42.0||5.0%||0.5||0.5||3||4||0||1|
|Patrick Onwuasor||BANDIT||6'1, 211||So.||*** (5.7)||12||30.5||3.7%||0.5||0||0||1||0||0|
|Vincente Miles, Jr.||FS||6'1, 189||So.||NR||13||22.0||2.6%||0.5||0||0||0||0||1|
|Wayne Capers, Jr.||SPUR||6'1, 201||So.||*** (5.6)||11||11.0||1.3%||1||0||0||1||1||0|
|William Parks||FS||6'1, 184||So.||*** (5.5)||13||8.5||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Blake Brady||S||5'11, 195||Jr.||NR||13||8.0||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jamar Allah||FS||6'1, 193||So.||** (5.4)||11||5.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Brendan Murphy||CB||5'11, 176||Sr.||NR||13||4.5||0.5%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Richard Morrison||CB||5'11, 174||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Anthony Lopez||S||5'11, 208||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Derek Babiash||DB||6'0, 173||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
8. Find a pass rush, and the secondary will thrive
Despite ranking 119th in Adj. Sack Rate (which held the Wildcats back considerably on passing downs), Arizona still ranked 57th in overall Passing S&P+ last season. That's a sign that the secondary did its job pretty well last year, all things considered. And the unit returns fully intact this fall, which is exciting. The three safeties in the 3-3-5 scheme were all sophomores last year (the backups were freshmen), but they still managed to wreak havoc. Bondurant in particular was just awesome in this regard, combining 11.5 tackles for loss with nine passes defensed.
The pass rush doesn't need to improve a lot for Arizona's defense to begin looking pretty good, but clearly the secondary needs at least a little bit more help here. Harass the quarterback more frequently, and watch the defensive backs begin to rack up the picks and big hits.
|David Richards||KR||6'4, 201||So.||16||20.6||0|
|Johnny Jackson||KR||5'10, 176||So.||5||18.2||0|
|Jared Baker||KR||5'8, 191||So.||5||20.0||0|
|Richard Morrison||PR||5'11, 174||Sr.||13||10.2||1|
|Special Teams F/+||93|
|Field Goal Pct||68|
|Kick Returns Avg||101|
|Punt Returns Avg||33|
9. Hitting reset on the field position battle
Despite the occasional inability of the defense to close out drives in timely fashion, Arizona still ranked a respectable 54th in Field Position Advantage, thanks in part to the work of Kyle Dugandzic and John Bonano in the punting and kicking departments. Arizona ranked in the top 40 in both net punting and net kicking; they were assets, and now they're both gone. Richard Morrison is a hell of a punt returner, but in all, this unit could regress a bit in 2013.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|30-Nov||at Arizona State||34|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||37|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||43|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-1 / +3.5|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||17 (6, 11)|
10. Play well on the road
The Pac-12 is loaded with decent-to-good teams, but Arizona's schedule is as navigable as it comes in 2013. First of all, the non-conference slate is almost embarrassingly easy. But beyond that, the Wildcats draw Washington and Washington State (and, yes, Oregon) from the Pac-12 North. It could be worse.
There is still a tricky aspect to the schedule, however: A lot of Arizona's easier games (on paper) come on the road. The Wildcats must travel to UNLV, Colorado and California, teams they would be favored to beat rather easily at home. A schedule like this could cut either way; either you're good enough to beat lesser teams on the road and scare the hell out of better teams (UCLA, Oregon) at home, or you're shaky enough to get upset away from home and not good enough to beat the Oregons of the world.
If UA can take care of business against the Colorados of the world, then the Wildcats could pretty easily put together another six to eight wins this year. Eventually, Arizona fans got impatient with seven-win seasons when Mike Stoops was in charge (from 2006-10, UA went 6-6, 5-7, 8-5, 8-5, and 7-6), but considering the gains Rodriguez made last year, and considering the iffy offseason the offense had, another 7-5 season would surely suffice for now.