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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona football on brink of disastrous year

Rebecca Noble
Head coach Rich Rodriguez, center, hollers as players head back to the sidelines during Arizona’s overtime 35-28 loss to Washington in Arizona Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 24.

The Wildcats are trying to find their footing on the slippery slope that has become the 2016-2017 season. Fans have seen this story before.

Last season, the Wildcats—dismantled by injuries on the defensive side—limped to a 6-6 finish before playing as healthy as they had been all season at the New Mexico Bowl. Arizona beat New Mexico 45-37 for the programs third bowl victory under heach coach Rich Rodriguez.

Injuries have become just the latest ingredient on a list of why the football program has downgraded to a mid-to-low tier state of relative to the college football landscape. That didn’t appear to be the case in 2014 when seemingly everything broke the way of the Wildcats, en route to a Fiesta Bowl appearance—the program’s first since 1994.

Since that season, which now seems to be a pot of fool’s gold, the Wildcats have gone 9-10 and 3-9 in the Pac-12 Conference. Couple that with the brutal schedule coming up and it would be hard for even the most loyal of fans to see where the Wildcats can muster a conference victory, let alone a fifth consecutive bowl appearance. So what is the difference between this season and last season? Talent.

It is difficult to see the ability of potential come to fruition in many cases. The fates of coaches nationwide are in the hands of 16 and 17-year-olds who just learned how to drive. It is an unfair proposition but it is the nature of the beast, and those who deal with it best succeed.

To that point, Arizona has not done well in recruiting prior to this season, and certainly did not do well on the heels of the Fiesta Bowl.

The final recruiting rankings for the Wildcats’ 2015 class had them listed with the 39th overall class with Michigan right behind them at 40, according to ESPN. Arizona dropped to 47th overall the following season.

Since that time, Michigan—a blue blood of college football—has turned around its program since hiring new head coach Jim Harbaugh. Arizona is not exactly a program that took advantage of the national spotlight, and is now paying the price for mediocre talent evaluation and development.

The defensive scheme is there. You can see the method to the madness, but the players needed to effectively carry the plan through is another story. On offense, the Wildcats are a shell of the back breaking pace makers they used to be. The reason why Rich Rod’s schemes worked in the past was due to the frenetic pace the Wildcats used to play, designed to allow mediocre talent rise to a higher level. The scheme has now matched the talent and it has been ugly to watch.

This year’s recruiting class is better, but this isn’t basketball and freshmen don’t typically see the field a lot, especially true freshmen. Even a kid like quarterback Khalil Tate needed two experienced quarterbacks to get hurt to finally see the field. Time is running out for the Wildcats to turn this season around, and it could be running out for Rodriguez as well.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.

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