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Arizona 2020 football schedule released: A preview of each opponent

Mike Christy

Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Jamarye Joiner (10) roars after his wide open touchdown during the Arizona Wildcats vs. Hawaii Rainbow Warriors college football game on Aug. 24. 2019, at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, HI.

Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics

The 2020 Pac-12 football schedule was released Saturday, Oct. 3, and the Arizona Wildcats were given a tough draw with three of their first four games being on the road. Here is a preview of each of their opponents and what we can expect from them this season. 

Nov. 7 @ Utah

The Utah Utes have lost a lot of firepower since last season, primarily in quarterback Tyler Huntley, running back Zack Moss and Bradlee Anae, the program’s career sack leader. They have a lot of talent to replace if they want to remain competitive in the Pac-12 South race. 

There were a lot of competitions going on at Utah’s spring practices before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. The most notable competition was at quarterback between South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley and redshirt sophomore Cameron Rising. Bentley has the upper hand in terms of collegiate experience having started 33 games for the Gamecocks but Rising has the advantage in having a year of learning the system. The other big competition is in the backfield to replace Moss. This could end up being somewhat of a committee approach as junior Devin Brumfield and sophomore Jordan Wilmore compete for who will play a bigger role. 

The Utes defense that finished top-6 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense will have a lot to replace having lost nine starters. The secondary is arguably the biggest hole to fill having lost Jaylon Johnson and Javelin K. Guidry to the NFL. Utah also lost the aforementioned program sack leader in Anae as well. 

There are a number of questions on both sides of the ball for Utah this season, but they should remain competitive if they can get the quarterback situation all figured out. 

Nov. 14 vs USC

USC figures to be one of the more competitive teams in the Pac-12 this season, led by quarterback Kedon Slovis who showed flashes of huge potential last season as a freshman. He’ll look to take a step forward as a sophomore and will have a ton of offensive firepower around him to help out. 

The wide receiver core is led by Tyler Vaughns, who is coming off a 74/912/6 statline last year, and Amon-Ra St. Brown who’s coming off a 1,000-yard performance on 77 receptions with six touchdowns. The backfield, led by seniors Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr, has a ton of experience as well to lead the Trojans rushing attack. 

The defensive side of the ball is where USC struggled mightily last season, having allowed close to 30 points per game. The Trojans have brought in a completely new defensive coaching staff, so they won’t have a lot of time to prepare. The defensive line figures to be led by Drake Jackson, who led the team in sacks (5.5) and tackles for a loss (11.5) last year. It appears that junior Jay Tufele likely won’t be returning after signing with an agent to prepare for the NFL draft. USC does have a lot of depth in the secondary, so they shouldn’t have any issues in that area, and it’ll be up to new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to help improve this defense. 

USC appears to be one of the top favorites to compete in the Pac-12 this year. Their offense will be exciting to watch. It will be up to the defense to step up. 

RELATED: OPINION: Kevin Sumlin’s time in Tucson should be coming to an end soon

Nov. 21 @ Washington 

The identity of this Washington program is going to look a lot different this year after head coach Chris Petersen surprisingly announced that he would be stepping down. They didn’t have to look far for a replacement, however, as the team’s former defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake took over and will look to keep this Washington team in contention. 

The Huskies return just four starters on the offensive side of the ball, but they still have talent to fill those positions. It will ultimately be the quarterback position that’ll be the difference maker having to replace Jacob Eason who departed to the NFL. The likely candidate to replace Eason will be Jacob Sirmon, a local kid out of Bothell who sat behind Eason as a freshman last year and will look to take over the starting job as a sophomore this year. 

The backfield will be led by sophomore Richard Newton, who found the end zone 11 total times last year as a freshman. After losing a lot of talent at wide receiver, that will be a big question mark for Washington as well. They hope to get Puka Nacua back, who played in three games and caught two touchdowns before ending his season early after breaking his foot. They will be led by Cade Otton, who caught 31 passes last year, at the tight end position after losing Hunter Bryant. 

The Washington defense, which had been the bread and butter of the program for many years, saw 10 new starters heading into last season and it certainly showed at times. They have most of the defense returning though and will have more experience overall. 

There are a lot of new pieces for this Washington program this year, including their head coach and quarterback. There could be some growing pains early on, but the Huskies will remain competitive as they have been for a while. It will be interesting to see if the defense can take a step forward. 

Nov. 28 @ UCLA

UCLA was expected to take a step forward last season in year two under head coach Chip Kelly, but that did not happen. If this Bruins program is to take a step forward this year, it will need to be on the back of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson who has been very disappointing so far in his first two seasons with the Bruins. 

The backfield is another question mark for UCLA after losing star Joshua Kelley. The leading returning rusher is Demetric Felton, a converted wide receiver who also caught 55 passes last year and can be lined up all over the field. They did bring in running back Brittain Brown, a transfer out of Duke, but he is coming off shoulder surgery so that makes him a bit more of an unknown this year. 

Kyle Phillips will lead this wide receiver core after leading the team in receptions (60), receiving yards (681) and receiving touchdowns (5) last year. Those 60 receptions by Phillips were a school freshman record. Chase Cota can turn into somewhat of a red zone threat standing in at 6-foot-3, while Jaylen Erwin figures to play a bigger role as well. The Bruins could see freshman Logan Loya and redshirt freshman Charles Njoku make immediate impacts as well. 

The biggest hole to fill for this Bruins defense will be on the back end as they lost their top cornerback in Darnay Holmes, along with all four starters at linebacker. They will have Obi Eboh, who is a transfer from Stanford, provide experience in the secondary and also hope to see linebacker Carl Jones make a sophomore leap. They’ll once again be led by Osa Odighizuwa on the defensive line. 

The success of this Bruins team primarily lands on the hands of dual-threat quarterback Thompson-Robinson. If he can take a step forward heading into his junior year, this team can win more games. If he continues to struggle, we could see Washington transfer Colson Yankoff eventually get a shot to take over under center. 

RELATED: Roundtable: What is the biggest concern regarding the Pac-12 football season?

Dec. 5 vs Colorado 

Colorado has also gone through a lot of change since last season after head coach Mel Tucker surprisingly left for Michigan State. The Buffaloes wound up bringing in Karl Dorrell as the program’s next head coach, just a few weeks before practices were shut down due to the pandemic. 

The biggest question mark for this offense will be the quarterback situation having to replace three-year starter Steven Montez. The likely favorite will be junior Tyler Lytle, the top backup from last year who knows the offense and personnel. They also have true freshman Brendon Lewis who enrolled early and senior Sam Noyer who has the most game experience of this group. Noyer, who moved to safety last year, was set to transfer but wound up staying after getting the chance to return to quarterback. 

The backfield will once again be led by Alex Fontenot and Jaren Mangham who led this backfield last year. The wide receiver core lost its top two wide receivers from last season in Laviska Shenault Jr. and Tony Brown. They’ll look for K.D. Nixon to take a step forward this year, while Dimitri Stanley should be the lead slot receiver. The Buffaloes also have La’Vontae Shenault, the younger brother of Laviska, who has a chance to step into an immediate role this year heading into his redshirt freshman year. 

The defense returned most of the starters from last year, most notably in linebacker Nate Landman who led the team in tackles each of the last two seasons. They also return everyone up front, including Mustafa Johnson and nose tackle Jalen Sami, and even added more depth to the position. 

Colorado finished 5-7 for the third consecutive season last year. The hope is that Dorrell can turn this program around and that starts with the quarterback situation if they can get that all figured out. 

Dec. 11 vs Arizona State 

Arizona State lost a lot of offensive firepower from last season, primarily in running back Eno Benjamin and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk who each departed to the NFL. The Sun Devils still have quarterback Jayden Daniels who looked very impressive last season throwing 17 touchdowns to just two interceptions as a true freshman and will look to take another step forward this year. 

The most notable returning piece for this Arizona State offense is wide receiver Frank Darby, who caught 31 passes for 616 yards and eight touchdowns last year leading the Pac-12 in yards-per-catch and touchdowns-per-reception last year. 

This incoming freshman class has a lot of talent for the Sun Devils and we should see them make an immediate impact. This includes running backs Daniyel Ngata and DeaMonte Trayanum, along with slot receiver LV Bunkley-Shelton, who was part of the best-regarded four-man wide receiver recruiting class in program history. 

The Sun Devils return a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary has a ton of talent led by cornerbacks Jack Jones and Chase Lucas, as well as safeties Evan Fields and Aashari Crosswell. The defensive line is deep with talent as well, including Jermayne Lole who is the conference’s leading returning defensive line tackler. 

The Sun Devils have returned a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, while they look for Daniels to only continue to mature on the other side of the ball. If Daniels can get enough help from the Sun Devils offensive skill positions, this has the chance to be a dangerous team this season. 

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