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Football notes: Wildcats earn top honors

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Tyler Baker
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat

Arizona football will go for the Pac-12 Conference’s biggest prize on Friday but picked up a couple conference awards on Tuesday.

Ahead of the Pac-12 Championship Game, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez won Pac-12 Coach of the Year, and linebacker Scooby Wright won Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year.

“I’ve always thought of it as a staff award, and it’s a players’ award,” Rodriguez said. “I mean, they don’t give guys coach of the year when your team does poorly.”

Rodriguez led the Wildcats to a 10-2 overall record and 7-2 Pac-12 mark en route to the Pac-12 South championship in his third season. This is only the UA’s third 10-plus-win season in school history and its first 10-win regular season since 1998.

Rodriguez is the first UA coach to win Pac-10 or Pac-12 Coach of the Year since Dick Tomey in 1992.

Rodriguez also won the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference coach of the year award twice and the Big East coach of the year honor twice.

“I knew it was going to happen some time,” Wright said about Rodriguez’s award. “I knew it was only a matter of time.”

This season, the Wildcats have three wins over ranked teams, including Pac-12 North champion and then-No. 2 Oregon on the road 31-24. The Wildcats are fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring (36.7 points per game), rushing (189.8 yards per game) and total offense (481.2).

Wright is Arizona’s eighth Pac-10 or Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, but the first since Tedy Bruschi in 1995. Wright is the first underclassman to take home the honor since Washington’s Steve Emtman in 1990. Entman is the only other underclassman to win the award, which began in 1983.

“It feels great,” Wright said. “I mean, it hasn’t even really hit me yet. I’m focused on Friday. It probably won’t even hit me until Saturday when I wake up; I’ll let it sink in.”

Wright led the Pac-12 in forced fumbles (six) and is third in the nation in sacks (14). The true sophomore is a finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Naguraski Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award.

“It’s well-deserved,” Rodriguez said. “I think he’s had a great year, and he’s got a lot of numbers, which help, and he’s had a lot of help around him. But he’s had as good a year as any linebacker that I’ve ever had.”

Wright leads the nation in tackles for loss with 27 total and 2.25 per game. He also had 139 tackles this season.

Wright won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week three times this season.

Wright not only scooped up the Pac-12 Player of the Week award but also won the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week and the Athlon Sports National Defensive Player of the Week.

Last week against ASU, Wright had a game-high 13 tackles, including 5.0 for loss, 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble.

Within striking distance

During Wednesday’s practice, the latest College Football Playoff rankings were unveiled, and the Wildcats moved up to No. 7.

Arizona jumped up four spots and is just outside the top four. The four playoff teams will be announced on Sunday.

Oregon is No. 2, leading many to speculate that if the Wildcats win on Friday, they will be in the final four.

“Everything, other than being undefeated, is probably still out there for us,” Rodriguez said. “That’s pretty neat in the first week of December.”

Hoke’s history

In a twist tailor-made for sports writers, Rodriguez’s replacement as Michigan head coach Brady Hoke was fired on the same day Rodriguez won coach of the year.

Hoke went 31-20 at Michigan, but after winning 11 games his first year, has gotten worse each season, finishing 5-7.

Under Rodriguez, the Wolverines improved each year, from 3-9 his first season, to 7-6 in his third.

“I don’t worry about what happens at Michigan,” Rodriguez said. “I’m worried about getting a first down against Oregon.”

Don’t forget Tevis!

Safety Jared Tevis headlined Arizona’s selections to the Pac-12 All-Academic teams.

Tevis was selected to the first team, the third time he has won that honor. Tevis graduated in May with finance degree and a 3.28 GPA, according to the UA.

Linebacker Jake Matthews, a pre-neuroscience and cognitive sciences major, was second team. According to the UA, he has a 3.55 GPA, and this is his first all-academic team award.

Jared Baker also made the second team. According to the UA, he has a 3.30 GPA and is a sustainable built environments major.

Defensive lineman Calvin Allen (3.23 GPA, business), receiver Abraham Mendivil (3.29 GPA, undeclared) and kicker Casey Skowron (3.37 GPA, psychology) were Honorable Mention.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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