Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. Known vs. unknown
Since 2002, Jeff Casteel spent 10 seasons as a Rich Rodriguez defensive coordinator. In those 10 seasons, Rodriguez is 90-38 as an FBS head coach. In four seasons without Casteel, Rodriguez is 18-30.
Casteel's unique 3-3-5 and Rodriguez's always-up-tempo offense have always made for a lovely combination. Rodriguez teams have been designed to have more speed and urgency, and the relationship has been fruitful over a long period.
Arizona's defense completely fell apart in 2015, beset by injuries and a sudden lack of playmakers. The Wildcats' Def. S&P+ ranking fell from 48th to 109th; a 7-6 record belied the true drop-off in quality.
Given the option of relying on his tried and true system or attempting to bring in more play-makers, Rodriguez chose the latter. He dropped Casteel and brought in Marcel Yates, Boise State's aggressive coordinator.
Rodriguez nearly left Tucson this offseason but stuck around. The man who more or less invented the run-first spread now mans a pass-first offense with a run-heavy quarterback. And now he's reinvented his defense.
"There's a tendency to say well, you change coaches, you bring new ones in, so that's why you were bad on defense," Rodriguez said.
"Those guys are good coaches. They didn't forget to coach. But as the head coach I've got the responsibility of trying to fix the problem, and it wasn't just the actual ‘coaching,' per se, it was the recruiting, it was a lot of things.
"So I just decided that instead of going piece by piece, I'm going to blow the whole thing up and start over again. And that was hard because of the loyalty and respect and the fact we'd won a whole lot of games together."
Yates is known as a dynamic recruiter, and has already helped lock up 18 commitments for Arizona's 2017 class; that includes three four-star prospects, per the 247Sports Composite, one more than Arizona signed in February's 2016 class.
Yates' early results at BSU were solid -- after a run of dominance, the Broncos' defense trailed off to 67th in Def. S&P+ in 2013, and Yates engineered a rebound to 38th in 2014 and 33rd in 2015. If you were to offer Rodriguez the 33rd-best defense in the country this second, he would probably accept it.
Still, Casteel's defense would have almost certainly rebounded. Rodriguez traded a known entity for a blurry promise of something more. That should not be a surprise. It isn't the first time.
In last year's preview, I said Arizona was probably going to suffer an off year but noted "Arizona isn't going away" and "When Rodriguez and Casteel are together, good things happen." In order to prove the former, Rodriguez ditched the latter.
2015 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 6-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 77 | Final S&P+ Rk: 77|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|21-Nov||at Arizona State||50||37-52||L||24%||11%||-9.0||-15.0|
|19-Dec||vs. New Mexico||99||45-37||W||79%||96%||-0.1||+0.0|
|Points Per Game||37.4||20||35.8||107|
At first glance, it appears Arizona went through a roller coaster of a season. Knowing about the injuries -- All-American Scooby Wright III suffered a couple of them and only played in three games (UTSA, UCLA, New Mexico), just about every other linebacker got hurt at some random point, and quarterback Anu Solomon dealt with concussion issues all season -- that would make sense. An unstable lineup produces unstable results.
That said, there's a correlation between the bad performances and the good opponents on the schedule, one that may have helped Rodriguez to conclude he needed to raise his recruiting game.
- Arizona vs. F/+ top 50:
Record: 1-5 | Average percentile performance: 28% (~top 90) | Yards per play: Opp 6.7, UA 5.3 (-1.4)
- Arizona vs. everyone else:
Record: 6-1 | Average percentile performance: 70% (~top 40) | Yards per play: UA 7.5, Opp 5.3 (+2.2)
No matter who was in the lineup, when Arizona was playing a pretty bad team, the Wildcats looked the part of a top-40 team, using their athleticism advantage to great effect.
When they played a team with a pulse, they had almost nothing to offer. The offense went from unstoppable to mediocre, and the defense went from decent to horrid.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.9%||49||Succ. Rt. +||100.1||73|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||29.1||54||Def. FP+||29.5||60|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.9||25||Redzone S&P+||100.3||74|
|Q1 Rk||51||1st Down Rk||25|
|Q2 Rk||52||2nd Down Rk||24|
|Q3 Rk||46||3rd Down Rk||24|
3. When your best down is third-and-long...
Arizona's 2015 offense was ... strange. Even with Solomon battling injuries, backups Jerrard Randall and Brandon Dawkins both looked Solomon-esque in their ability to provide a steady run threat. But the UA attack remained pass-first no matter who was behind center. It also remained rather inefficient.
Arizona averaged 6 yards per carry on first downs but ranked just 66th in Standard Downs S&P+, in part because the pass wasn't as efficient as it perhaps should have been. Meanwhile, the Wildcats were fantastic at throwing the ball on passing downs. Legitimately good.
- Arizona's passer rating on first downs: 139.6 (63% completion rate, 12.2 yards per completion)
- Arizona's passer rating on third-and-7 or more: 144.7 (56% completion rate, 16.9 yards per completion)
The Wildcats dug themselves holes, then pulled themselves out. At least, they did against lesser defenses. A wait-till-third-and-long approach doesn't tend to work very well against good teams.
Arizona had big-play ability but was dreadfully inconsistent. Stability at quarterback will help immensely, but in receiver Cayleb Jones and backup running back Jared Baker, the Wildcats have lost a couple of their better big-play guys.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Anu Solomon||6'2, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.8716||205||330||2667||20||5||62.1%||20||5.7%||7.3|
|Brandon Dawkins||6'3, 201||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8647||20||38||338||2||2||52.6%||10||20.8%||6.3|
|Zach Werlinger||6'1, 188||So.||NR||0.7667|
|Khalil Tate||6'2, 212||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9177|
4. Competition is good
Solomon's full-season numbers were impressive. Despite injuries, and despite missing most of three games, the then-sophomore completed 62 percent of his passes for nearly 2,700 yards, threw just five interceptions to 20 touchdown passes, and gained at least five yards on 51 percent of his carries.
As a freshman, Brandon Dawkins was a rawer Solomon -- more explosive passing, more explosive rushing, more incompletions, and more sacks. He evidently had a good spring, and Rodriguez and his co-coordinators Rod Smith and Calvin Magee proclaimed Solomon was in no way entitled to the starting job.
Between Solomon, Dawkins, and incoming four-star freshman Khalil Tate, one assumes the competition level will be pretty strong in fall camp. This is unquestionably good, as even though Solomon is still the odds-on favorite, issues with head injuries don't go away. Even if Anu remains the starter, Arizona will have reason to make sure that the backups are ready to roll. Dawkins is a tantalizing backup at the moment.
Regardless of who's behind center, balance will be interesting. Solomon is a better passer than Dawkins, and Dawkins is a better runner, but it appears Arizona's pass first (or, at worst, balanced) attack will remain. But it was already suffering from efficiency issues before losing Jones, Johnny Jackson, and David Richards, three of last year's top four targets.
|Nick Wilson||RB||5'10, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9039||133||725||8||5.5||5.5||40.6%||2||2|
|Anu Solomon||QB||6'2, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.8716||47||295||3||6.3||4.7||51.1%||8||1|
|Orlando Bradford||RB||5'8, 206||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8454||47||208||3||4.4||4.4||27.7%||0||0|
|Brandon Dawkins||QB||6'3, 201||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8647||22||217||2||9.9||16.2||40.9%||2||0|
|Zach Green||RB||5'10, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8463||7||43||0||6.1||4.2||42.9%||0||0|
|Tyrell Johnson||WR||5'7, 164||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8591||5||21||0||4.2||3.1||40.0%||0||0|
|Samajie Grant||WR||5'9, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8547||4||21||0||5.3||7.9||50.0%||1||1|
|Jamardre Cobb||FB||6'0, 257||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9173|
|J.J. Taylor||RB||5'6, 155||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8396|
|Russell Halimon||RB||5'10, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8424|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Nate Phillips||SLOT||5'7, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8166||75||44||564||58.7%||17.3%||7.5||62.7%||49.3%||1.40|
|Samajie Grant||SLOT||5'9, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8547||51||31||301||60.8%||11.8%||5.9||72.5%||47.1%||1.18|
|Trey Griffey||WR||6'3, 209||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8534||14||11||284||78.6%||3.2%||20.3||50.0%||57.1%||3.29|
|Josh Kern||TE||6'5, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8481||13||8||59||61.5%||3.0%||4.5||61.5%||38.5%||1.01|
|Tyrell Johnson||SLOT||5'7, 164||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8591||8||5||41||62.5%||1.8%||5.1||37.5%||25.0%||2.33|
|Nick Wilson||RB||5'10, 215||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9039||6||4||52||66.7%||1.4%||8.7||50.0%||50.0%||1.69|
|Shun Brown||SLOT||5'8, 175||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8562||6||4||24||66.7%||1.4%||4.0||33.3%||16.7%||2.26|
|Tony Ellison||WR||5'11, 178||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8316||3||1||13||33.3%||0.7%||4.3||66.7%||33.3%||0.99|
|Matt Morin||TE||6'2, 235||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8156|
|Cam Denson||SLOT||5'11, 179||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9314|
|Trevor Wood||TE||6'5, 261||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8590|
|Cedric Peterson||WR||5'11, 199||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8560|
|Shawn Poindexter||WR||6'6, 210||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8093|
|Devaughn Cooper||WR||5'11, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8624|
5. Plenty of big-play threats
In Jones, Arizona must replace one of the Pac-12's better big-play receivers. Baker was quite the all-or-nothing threat out of the backfield. In the absence of efficiency, Arizona had to rely on explosiveness to bail it out of trouble, and two of the bigger sources of explosiveness are gone.
There's still obvious potential. Running back Nick Wilson isn't as explosive as Baker but had seven carries of 20-plus yards in 133 carries last year. Plus, he's a little bit more efficient. Slot receiver Nate Phillips caught a ton of shorter passes but still gained 25-plus yards on eight of 44 catches, and while Samajie Grant was held in check last year, he averaged 16 yards per catch as a sophomore in 2014. And while he missed half the season in 2015, Trey Griffey has still caught 42 passes for 689 yards (16.4 per catch) over the last two years.
So yeah, there should still be big plays, and especially with Solomon, Arizona should be dangerous on passing downs. The question will be whether the Wildcats are any better at avoiding passing downs to begin with.
That's probably more likely with Solomon healthy, and it could in part depend on the line. Two multi-year starters (center Cayman Bundage and tackle Lene Maiava) are gone, but Arizona does return five players with starting experience. The Wildcats weren't great in short-yardage situations but did a decent job of keeping opponents out of the backfield. Experience should be a plus up front, even if depth is not.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Jacob Alsadek||RG||6'7, 318||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8351||12||23|
|Layth Friekh||LT||6'5, 282||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8633||9||9|
|Freddie Tagaloa||LG||6'8, 320||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9001||9||9|
|Zach Hemmila||C||6'3, 310||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8904||6||6|
|Gerhard de Beer||LG||6'7, 311||Jr.||NR||NR||3||3|
|Levi Walton||C||6'3, 290||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8194||0||0|
|Christian Boettcher||RG||6'2, 274||So.||NR||NR||0||0|
|Cody Creason||OL||6'4, 294||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8747|
|Michael Eletise||OT||6'4, 295||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9213|
|Bryson Cain||OT||6'4, 270||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8375|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||44.1%||91||Succ. Rt. +||94.3||88|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.8||66||Off. FP+||29.3||82|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||5.2||122||Redzone S&P+||85.2||120|
|Q1 Rk||79||1st Down Rk||78|
|Q2 Rk||123||2nd Down Rk||50|
|Q3 Rk||74||3rd Down Rk||120|
6. Talent vs. tactics
"I wasn’t looking so much for a scheme than a personality, a guy who was confident enough in his scheme to be open enough for new ideas and new parameters."
A lot of coaches believe you can lure better offensive prospects with a supposed pro-style offense that would, in theory, prepare guys for the next level. There is some level of evidence, though it's hard to tell for sure -- schools like Alabama are going to recruit well no matter the system. Still, of the top eight teams in last year's 247Sports Composite rankings, six run what we would probably call pro-style attacks (whatever that means at this point). Only Ohio State and Ole Miss are the holdouts.
You could make the case that Rodriguez is casting his lot with a pro-style defense. When you've got a unique system like Casteel's 3-3-5, it's like running the triple option -- opponents don't get to practice against it very much, and you pretty much know how they're going to try to attack it. Being tactically flexible can be good, but it can also mean you don't know what your go-tos are or what your identity is.
You could interpret some of Rodriguez's offseason quotes as him saying Casteel's sytem was too rigid to attract high-end talent. That Wright, the Wildcats' biggest recent star, was a two-star recruit while four-star signees like tackle Marcus Griffin and linebackers Jamardre Cobb and Marquis Ware have struggled to see the field early might indirectly reinforce that. If you want to attract better talent, you have to offer that talent a clear chance to thrive.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Luca Bruno||DT||6'4, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8314||11||23.5||2.9%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Sani Fuimaono||DT||6'1, 294||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8100||13||18.5||2.3%||3.0||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Parker Zellers||DT||6'1, 247||Jr.||NR||NR||12||16.0||2.0%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jack Banda||DE||6'3, 240||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8025||13||7.0||0.9%||4.0||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Calvin Allen||DE||6'6, 281||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8382||12||6.0||0.7%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Anthony Fotu||DE||6'2, 275||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8708||5||3.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||1||0||0||0|
|Marcus Griffin||DT||6'0, 302||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8608|
|Finton Connolly||DT||6'5, 280||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8457|
|JJ Allen||DE||6'4, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8681|
|Justin Holt||DT||6'4, 285||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8362|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|DeAndre' Miller||SLB||6'3, 236||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8656||11||43.0||5.3%||8.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|MLB||6'2, 242||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7863||14||42.5||4.8%||6.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jake Matthews||SLB||6'3, 230||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||NR||11||38.5||4.7%||2.0||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Sir Thomas Jackson||MLB||13||33.0||4.0%||1.5||0.5||0||1||0||0|
|Scooby Wright III||MLB||3||19.5||2.4%||3.5||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Derrick Turituri||WLB||6'1, 265||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8207||4||11.0||1.3%||2.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Tre Tyler||MLB||5'11, 205||So.||NR||NR||12||8.5||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|RJ Morgan||WLB||6'1, 232||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7973||6||8.0||1.0%||2.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Brandon Rutt||LB||6'1, 215||So.||NR||NR||12||7.5||0.9%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Antonio Smothers Jr.||WLB||10||4.5||0.6%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|LB||6'1, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8625|
|Marquis Ware||LB||6'0, 229||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9213|
|Jamardre Cobb||LB||6'0, 257||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9173|
|Kahi Neves||LB||6'4, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8560|
|Jacob Colacion||LB||6'1, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8462|
|Jalen Cochran||LB||6'4, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8429|
7. Any havoc left?
With Wright leading the way in 2014, Arizona's three-man linebacking corps combined for 42.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks. In an injury-riddled 2015, those totals fell to 27.5 TFLs and seven sacks. Consequently, Arizona's havoc rate fell from 15.9 percent (basically the national average) to 12.6 (119th in FBS).
Any system with a three-man line is going to try to take advantage of its speed before you can take advantage of its lack of size. Casteel's was no different. But while this was never the most disruptive of systems, Arizona's 2015 defense was not even slightly disruptive.
Yates' 2015 Boise State defense generated a havoc rate of 21.5 percent, fourth in the country. Think about the difference between 21.5 percent and 12.6 percent -- that means that on an extra 8.9 percent of plays (about one in 11), Boise State was making a tackle for loss or breaking up a pass or forcing a fumble. You think that might make a difference?
Yates wants to unleash hell, attack the ball, and force opponents to adjust before Arizona has to. The question is whether he has any horses to pull that off. Wright is gone, as is leading end Reggie Gilbert. Of the returnees listed above, only three made more than even three tackles for loss last year, and three isn't very many.
There is potential, of course. Jack Banda made three sacks among his seven tackles as a reserve last year, linebacker Cody Ippolito is back after missing 2015, and reserve LBs like Derrick Turituri and RJ Morgan were each disruptive in limited action. Plus, there are the aforementioned four-star sophomores, for whom it isn't too late to break through.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Paul Magloire Jr.||S||6'1, 221||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8543||13||63.0||7.7%||4||0||0||1||1||0|
|DaVonte' Neal||CB||5'10, 178||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9731||12||56.5||6.9%||2||0||1||5||0||0|
|Tellas Jones||BANDIT||6'0, 199||Sr.||NR||NR||11||48.5||5.9%||7||3||0||2||1||0|
|Jarvis McCall Jr.||CB||6'2, 202||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8600||12||24.5||3.0%||0||0||1||5||0||0|
|Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles||FS||6'2, 199||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8179||13||24.5||3.0%||1||0||1||0||1||0|
|Jace Whittaker||CB||5'10, 163||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8100||11||22.0||2.7%||1||0||0||4||0||0|
|Carter Hehr||S||5'10, 191||Jr.||NR||NR||12||16.5||2.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kwesi Mashack||CB||5'8, 206||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8280||7||6.0||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Devin Holiday||CB||5'10, 170||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8385||13||5.0||0.6%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Sammy Morrison||CB||5'9, 169||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8327||12||2.5||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jarek Hilgers||S||6'0, 207||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7926||9||2.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Devon Brewer||CB||5'10, 171||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8232||8||2.0||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Dane Cruikshank||CB||6'1, 204||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8428|
|Anthony Mariscal||S||5'10, 194||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8519|
|Chacho Ulloa||S||6'0, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8857|
|Isaiah Hayes||S||6'0, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8533|
|Gavin Robertson||S||6'2, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8367|
|Lorenzo Burns||CB||6'0, 165||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8327|
8. Plenty of competition in the back
Arizona's pass defense was miserable last year. The Wildcats weren't particularly aggressive but still gave up 27 passes of 30-plus yards in 2015, 116th in FBS and second-to-last in the Pac-12. Without Wright, the pass rush was totally nonexistent, and Arizona was one of the worst in the country at defending passing downs.
As good as Solomon was on passing downs in 2015, opponents were better, completing 35 of 59 passes for 591 yards, two touchdowns, and only one pick on third-and-7 or longer. Passer rating: 151.3. Yuck.
The good news is that there are plenty of experienced options returning. Safeties Tellas Jones and Paul Magloire Jr. combined for 11 tackles for loss and three passes defensed, and cornerbacks DaVonte' Neal, Jarvis McCall Jr., and Jace Whittaker combined for 16 passes defensed. And Rodriguez signed four relatively well-regarded freshman DBs; he probably doesn't intend to redshirt all of them.
In a more aggressive defense, Arizona is probably still going to allow a ton of big plays. But opponents also completed 62 percent of passes with only 11 interceptions; if those numbers improve, then the turnover and field position averages improve, too.
|Josh Pollack||5'10, 184||So.||1-1||0-0||N/A||0-0||N/A|
|Tyrell Johnson||KR||5'7, 164||Jr.||16||25.5||0|
|Nate Phillips||KR||5'7, 180||Sr.||8||19.5||0|
|Nate Phillips||PR||5'7, 180||Sr.||7||17.3||1|
|Special Teams S&P+||52|
|Field Goal Efficiency||18|
|Punt Return Success Rate||83|
|Kick Return Success Rate||114|
|Punt Success Rate||87|
|Kickoff Success Rate||70|
9. An all-or-nothing return game
Here's a pretty good example between averages and efficiency. Arizona averaged a decent 22.8 yards per kick return (36th in FBS) and 16 yards per punt return (sixth) in 2015. That pretty clearly exemplifies the potential that Tyrell Johnson and Nate Phillips have in the back. But Arizona's efficiency numbers -- 83rd in punt return success rate, 114th in kick return success rate -- were pretty dreadful, suggesting that for every big return, there were quite a few tiny ones.
Still, all-or-nothing is better than simply nothing, and with the loss of place-kicker Casey Skowron, Johnson and Phillips are the closest thing to proven entities that Arizona has in special teams.
2016 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|5-Nov||at Washington State||48||-5.8||37%|
|19-Nov||at Oregon State||86||2.0||55%|
|Projected wins: 5.7|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||11.3% (44)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||44 / 44|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-4 / -3.8|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||-0.1|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||63% (61%, 65%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||6.9 (0.1)|
For Zona fans
For Zona fans
10. Beat BYU
Because of last year's sudden drop to 77th in S&P+ (almost entirely due to defense), Arizona isn't a numbers darling. Projected 64th, the Wildcats start on the bottom of the non-OSU/Colorado pile in the Pac-12. Consequently, they are projected to finish right on the border of bowl eligibility.
Rodriguez's reinvention offers a chance to thwart these projections, for better or worse, but there's some work to do. S&P+ says Arizona has between a 26 and 41 percent chance of winning in six games, then finishes the year with back-to-back tossups against Oregon State and Arizona State.
If offensive health and defensive changes help to move Arizona back into the top 40, a 7-5 or 8-4 season becomes the most likely outcome. And there would be no better way to prove you've rebounded and stabilized than by taking down BYU in Glendale to start the year. (Glendale is graded as a "neutral site" -- you could adjust that to move another point or two toward Arizona if you wanted, though the crowd will be very mixed.)
Rodriguez has reinvented himself before, and 2016 appears to be the beginning of his second act in Tucson. The gambles might not pay off, but they certainly have before.