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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Wildcats five keys to redemption


(Top left) Braxton Burmeister is the 10th overall rated quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class and expected to compete immediately for the starting quarterback position (Photo by Courtesy Chadd Cady / The San Diego Union-Tribune). (Top right) A sign near the southwest corner of Arizona Stadium bears the slogan #OurHouse on Tuesday, Nov. 29 (Photo by Alex McIntyre). (Bottom left) Arizona running back JJ Taylor runs toward the end zone for a touchdown against the University of Hawaii on Saturday, Sept. 16 (Photo by Jesus Barrera). (Bottom right) A young Arizona Wildcats fan proudly displays his sign after an Arizona touchdown during the first half the 2016 Territorial Cup at Arizona Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25 (photo by Alex McIntyre).

It is a quiet Monday morning on campus, but dozens of players in the Arizona football weight room are prepping for next season. Understandably so—the team was at the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference the entire season, saving face with a win over rival ASU.

Saving face locally—yes; nationally—no. The Wildcats went from the penthouse to the cellar really quick and, until the last game of the season, showed no promise for the future as they became one of the laughing stocks in college football. Alas, the future is here and these are a few ways the football program can rebound both next season and long term.

1. Recruiting

Make no mistake, this year is as important as there ever has been for UA football. Coaches Marcel Yates and Donte’ Williams were brought in to not only improve the defense, but make waves in recruiting.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez finally realized that you can’t go after two- and three-star players and miss; the drop off is too severe. So, they are rectifying it by bringing in a top-25 class headlined by star athlete Greg Johnson, quarterback Braxton Burmeister and running back Nathan Tilford. In addition, only one recruit in the class is listed as a two-star prospect.

Burmeister is the interesting prospect for Arizona fans. He is a dual-threat quarterback and is widely believed to make a push for immediate playing time, especially after the inconsistent year at the position this season.

You can see some highlights of Burmeister as he leads his team to the CIF Division IV Championship set to kickoff this Friday, Dec. 2.

Tilford is another piece that could reap immediate dividends for the Wildcats. He is tall at 6-foot-2, but his stride and power resemble that of former Alabama running back and second-round NFL draft selection Derrick Henry. USC, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Nebraska also heavily recruited Tilford, the No. 14 player at his position.

This year’s signing day will be one of the more anticipated in some time, and if things hold strong, it will be a good one for the Wildcats.

2. Texas

Why Texas? Though it probably won’t happen, the Wildcats need to go back to this state for recruits in a desperate way.

When asked if he had given any thought to recruiting in Texas, Rodriguez said, “Why, because everything is bigger in Texas?”

Well, yes, coach. Yes it is. This is something that former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops knew and took advantage of on several occasions, bringing in guys like Earl Mitchell.

It is too close in proximity to ignore, and the size and type of linemen desperately needed on both sides of the ball can be found in Texas. It is worth taking a look. The program literally passes up this giant state to get to Louisiana, where it has had success. Can’t it make a pit stop in Houston, Dallas or San Antonio?

Programs like Houston rise up because it finally took advantage of the talent that was in its backyard. The same could be said for Arizona if it chooses to look that way.

3. Fans

There is no other way to put it than finding a way to bring the fans back. The ZonaZoo was a ghost town the majority of the season. The rest of the stadium, mostly the newly renovated north endzone all the way to the southwest corner, was desolate.

Perhaps the solution isn’t to pump up the crowd on a continuous basis thus becoming so repetitive that no one is truly enthusiastic about any of it. It’s tiresome and played out. Fans aren’t going to get pumped up for a second down and 30 in a game their team is down by 40. There is too much of an attempt to manufacture excitement, and it isn’t playing well with students.

4. Slogan

The football team was bad, yes, but a case could be made that the #OurHouse motto was even worse. The theme itself made no sense; it was seclusive and made fans feel that it was a privilege to come watch one of the worst seasons in recent memory. It also seemed very arbitrary. Was there no other option? Perhaps next season they will go with “Make Arizona Great Again.” Just a thought.

People get paid to make these decisions and come up with creative ways to engage fans, and this slogan was step one in a series of missteps that led to a decline of butts in seats at Arizona Stadium. This is something that has to be rectified immediately for an athletic department seeking funding for renovations.

5. Development

This may be the more concerning issue when it comes to Rodriguez and his staff. Are they capable of taking a talent and making them NFL-worthy?

Thus far, the answer has been no. Ka’Deem Carey was a Stoops recruit and Scooby Wright III is on the practice squad for the Cleveland Browns, leaving Will Parks as the only Arizona Rich Rod recruit to see legitimate playing time in the NFL, ever.

So is it a matter of the player or the program? Both. The type of player that has come through the Arizona football offices has left a lot to be desired—senior wide receiver Samajie Grant has said as much.

No passion, no work ethic and no drive to be the best is a recipe for a failure of a program. Rodriguez says he cares, says his staff cares and says his players care, but all the care in the world doesn’t do a thing if the work isn’t being put in.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.

Videos Courtesy of Youtube.

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