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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Arizona will finish in the middle of the Pac-12 standings, probably

The+Wildcats+enter+the+field+before+playing+against+Washington+State+at+Arizona+Stadium+on+Oct.+24.
Zi Yang Lai
The Wildcats enter the field before playing against Washington State at Arizona Stadium on Oct. 24.

The Arizona football team was unable to build on its stellar 2014 campaign in 2015, to say the least.

The defending Pac-12 South Conference champions fell back to Earth, regressing to a 7-6 record in 2015 after going 10-4 in 2014.

The Wildcats’ defense was one of the worst in the country, and the offense was rocked by inconsistency and injuries.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez is hoping an improved offense and changes on the defensive side of the ball will lead to better results in 2016.

Quarterbacks Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins will compete for the starting job when practice begins in August. Solomon has been a solid—but not spectacular—starter in the past two seasons, while Dawkins is a superior athlete and can offer more upside.

The quarterback position is unsettled, but it is known who will be the leader of the ground game—junior running back Nick Wilson. Wilson rushed for 725 yards in 2015 despite being hobbled by injuries. In 2014 as a true freshman, Wilson broke out onto the scene and rushed for 1375 yards and 16 total touchdowns.

When healthy, Wilson has proven to be a dynamic runner, not to mention the Wildcats’ three returning starters on the offensive line, which should give Wilson plenty of room to run.

Defensively, Marcel Yates, the new defensive coordinator, will bring a clean slate to what was an inept defensive unit in 2015. Yates, who was brought in from Boise State, scrapped the previous 3-3-5 stack-defensive alignment and installed a hybrid 4-2-5 defense.

Yates is known to be an aggressive play-caller whose defenses create havoc and turnovers in bunches. Arizona had a struggling secondary and a non-existent pass-rush in 2015, so Yates certainly has his work cut out for him in his first season in the desert.

Linebackers Paul Magloire Jr. and De’Andre Miller as well as safety Tellas Jones are expected to be Arizona’s defensive impact players.

Another unit set to undergo significant changes is UA’s special teams. Gone are both punter Drew Riggleman and kicker Casey Skowron, putting what was a strong unit in flux. Josh Pollack, a redshirt sophomore, may be asked to fill both roles if other candidates don’t emerge.

In the end, Arizona—which has made it to a bowl game in each of the last four seasons—is expected to finish in the middle of the Pac-12 standings. The media picked the Wildcats to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South and eighth in the conference overall.

Arizona does, however, have a favorable schedule—one it might be able to take advantage of. The Wildcats have seven home games, one neutral site game up the road in Glendale, Arizona and just four road games.

Their toughest games are vs. Washington on Sept. 24, at UCLA on Oct. 1, vs. USC on Oct. 15 and at conference title-favorite Stanford on Oct. 29.

Arizona will host arch-rival ASU to cap off the regular season for the annual Territorial Cup game on Nov. 25. The rivals have split the last two games, and the home team has won the last three—a trend the UA is hoping will continue in 2016.


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