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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Pac-12 media day in the books

Bill+Mason%2C+Cat+Tran+Driver%0A%0A%28Brown+hair%29%0A%0ADennis+Cady%2C+Cat+Tran+Driver%0A%0A%28black+and+white+striped+shirt%29%0A%0AAJ+Dowgiert%2C+Cat+Tran+Driver%0A%0A%28Plaid%2FCheckered+Shirt%29
Bill Mason, Cat Tran Driver (Brown hair) Dennis Cady, Cat Tran Driver (black and white striped shirt) AJ Dowgiert, Cat Tran Driver (Plaid/Checkered Shirt)

If Arizona football head coach Rich Rodriguez took slight to the Wildcats being picked by the media to finish fourth in the Pac-12 Conference South, he sure didn’t show it at the conference’s football media days last week.

“Fourth?” asked Rodriguez to reporters. “You know, is that where we were picked last year?”

Indeed, the media slotted Arizona to the same spot last season, only to be proven wrong when the UA went on to win the Pac-12 South title.

That was with a freshman quarterback and running back leading the offense.

Now that Rodriguez’s team has returning playmakers at the two most important skill positions as well as an All-American linebacker in Scooby Wright III, general theory suggests that Arizona will continue its upward climb.

“I’ve been in situations where we’ve been the league favorite to win in situations like last year or this year where nobody would predict you’d win,” Rodriguez said. “But if it motivates your guys to run an extra sprint on their own or something, maybe it will be good.”

Coinage aside, Rodriguez and most everyone at the Pac-12 Conference media days understood why Arizona is not expected to repeat as South champions: the division is just too strong.

USC returns a Heisman hopeful quarterback of its own. UCLA is loaded with experienced players at nearly every position except quarterback. And ASU enters the year with a much deeper defense.

Even Utah looks poised to make headway with a healthy quarterback and a strong defense.

“I think the Pac-12 South is probably going to be better this year than it’s ever been,” Rodriguez said. “I think there are always some arguments about which league is the best, which division is the best, and that’s good for debate. I don’t worry about it.”

Rodriguez, understandably, has bigger issues to worry about, mainly ensuring that Arizona doesn’t face a steep drop off at any position.

“It starts with the guys up front on our o-line, both tackles on defense and at the safety position,” Rodriguez said. “You’re losing three guys of your secondaries that have been multi-year starters. So you can put some talent in there, but the experience part of it is going to be new.”

The young offensive line, which took a blow when Jordan Poland was arrested and kicked off the team last month, will be bolstered by the presence of Freddie Tagaloa.

The Cal transfer, who redshirted last season, will be asked to carry the load up front for a line that needs to stay healthy and sharp.

That’s a lot to ask of a guy who hasn’t yet played a down in Arizona uniform, but Rodriguez boasted with pride talking about the 6-foot-8 addition from Richmond, Calif.

“Freddie will be the first guy off the bus,” Rodriguez said. “He can do, like, Incredible Hulk commercials. He’s a mountain of a man who loves football.”

Rodriguez also expressed confidence in discussing the progress of Anu Solomon, the man Tagaloa will be asked to protect.

After an up-and-down freshman year that ended with a poor Fiesta Bowl showing, Rodriguez said Solomon took a leap this past spring.

“He was a little bigger, little faster, little stronger,” Rodriguez said. “He’s worked extremely hard in the off-season, and it’s important to him.”

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