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Roundtable: Over/under 3.5 wins for Arizona football in an eight-game season

Courtesy Mike Christy / Arizona
Arizona Wildcats wide receiver Brian Casteel (5), Arizona Wildcats football vs. USC 10/19/19 in Los Angeles, Calif.

A football season for the Pac-12 may be coming sooner than expected after commissioner Larry Scott announced the conference’s partnership with Quidel Corporation on Sept. 3, allowing student-athletes to be tested daily with results revealed within minutes. Scott is so confident in their partnership that he expects the conference to be having a football season in January

The Pac-12 is considering the possibility of hosting an eight-game season this winter, which got us thinking: If the Wildcats played in an eight-game, conference-only schedule, how many games would they win? We set the over/under at 3.5. 

Jacob Mennuti, Over (@jacob_mennuti)

As underwhelming as they may look on paper, I still believe this team is capable of winning more than three games in an eight-game season. The schedule would likely include each team from the Pac-12 South Division (ASU, USC, UCLA, the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Utah) with the remaining three games coming from the Pac-12 North Division (the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, the University of Washington, Washington State University, Stanford University or the University of California, Berkeley). 

The losses of Colin Schooler, Tony Fields II and Scottie Young Jr. on defense are huge, I get it. After all, the trio did combine for 258 total tackles last season, finishing top three on the team in that stat category. The entire defensive unit will include some unfamiliar faces — both on and off the field. Freshly hired defensive coordinator Paul Rhodes will be installing his new defensive scheme around a thin roster with question marks on every level of the defense. Looking at this team as realistically as possible, the only way Arizona is going to win any games this year will be because of its offense. Luckily for Arizona, the Wildcats may have enough on the other side of the ball to do just that. 

We all know who Grant Gunnell is and what he’s capable of doing. The running back core is as deep and versatile as it gets with returning players Gary Brightwell, Bam Smith, Nathan Tilford and Michael Wiley. The Wildcats also added Frank Brown Jr. and Jalen John from its 2020 recruiting class, making the backfield rotation potentially six players deep. Arizona is also bringing back the majority of its offensive linemen and wide receivers which should add experience and chemistry to a team that has little to none of that on the other side of the ball.

My prediction is mostly reliant on the hopes of Arizona getting a bit of luck to go its way by getting a game scheduled against Washington State. I see the Wildcats picking up the win over “Wazzu” based on the Cougars’ head coaching change, lack of a solidified starting quarterback and consistent defensive struggles. I also see the Wildcats picking up wins against UCLA and Colorado based on their sub-par defenses and coaching changes. So assuming a favorable schedule, Arizona is sitting at three wins, only needing one victory against ASU, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Utah, Stanford or Cal to crack the over. 

The Pac-12 is infamous for upsets, beating up on each other and ruining its conference records. Remember when Arizona upset Justin Herbert and the No. 19 Oregon Ducks 44-15 in 2018? Or when USC took down No. 10 Utah in 2019? Or when Arizona State spoiled No. 6 Oregon’s playoff hopes last season? You get my point. I think Arizona steals one of those games and finishes, at worst, 4-4.  

Ari Koslow, Under (@koslow_ari)

If the Pac-12 ends up having an conference-only, eight-game season this year, I am rolling with the under at 3.5 in wins for the Arizona Wildcats this year. The defense is my biggest concern for the Wildcats right now, most notably following the losses of Colin Schooler and Scottie Young Jr., who both entered the transfer portal. One of the leaders who will be relied on heavily on the defensive line is junior college transfer Trevon Mason, who totaled 44 tackles, including six for losses, in his first year with the Wildcats last season. The Wildcats will also be looking for a step forward from sophomore Kyon Barrs, who totaled 13 tackles as a freshman last year including a season-high four tackles against ASU. The Wildcats lost multiple players in the secondary, leaving them relatively thin from a depth standpoint. They will likely be reliant on Christian Young and Jarrius Wallace at safety and will be looking for sophomore cornerback Christian Roland-Wallace to take another step forward after he racked up 37 tackles and five pass breakups as a freshman last year. One of the bigger wildcards on the defensive side of the ball for the Wildcats is fifth-year senior cornerback Lorenzo Burns. He considered leaving Arizona last year for the NFL draft after racking up a team-high four interceptions. He initially announced he would return last year, but it is possible that he might change his mind given the pandemic.

The offense figures to be led by quarterback Grant Gunnell, who threw nine touchdowns to just one interception in eight games played and three starts last year as a freshman. The backfield still possesses decent depth despite the departure of J.J. Taylor, but figures to be led by Gary Brightwell. The senior was primarily used to support Taylor last year, but excelled in limited opportunity rushing for 390 yards on 66 carries (5.9 yards per carry) with six total touchdowns. He’ll get the opportunity to prove himself as the lead back this year for the Wildcats offense as he hopes to raise his NFL draft stock as a prospect. The wide receiver position was looking to be one of the deeper positions for the Wildcats this year, but a big loss was suffered following the loss of Brenden Schooler who entered the transfer portal. He was projected to be the top wide receiver on the outside for the Wildcats this year. They will be more reliant on the returning receivers from last season: Jamarye Joiner, Brian Casteel and Tayvian Cunningham. I do believe there is some promise for the Wildcats. However, I believe the Pac-12 is too tough of a conference for them to win more than three games.

Jake Faigus, Under (@jake_faigus)

In an eight-game Pac-12 conference season, the Arizona Wildcats would win three games and lose five. The offense will be a driving force for the team with sophomore quarterback, Grant Gunnell, at the helm. A young offensive line a year ago should be improved with experience alone and the stable growth of running backs is deep enough to where the loss of J.J. Taylor shouldn’t matter a whole lot. The loss of Brenden Schooler, however, is a big hit for the receivers because he provided experience and was most likely the biggest safety valve for Gunnell to throw to. Besides Schooler leaving, the receivers remain relatively intact with depth and still have the chance to unlock some potential of their own like with Jalen “Boobie” Curry. 

The defense is where the struggles will be if and when the season kicks off. The defensive line remains limited in size for a major conference and the deepest position group on defense — the defensive backs — is not as strong as once thought with the departure of Scottie Young Jr. at safety, leaving the position group with only four total players. However, the biggest struggles on defense will come from the linebacker position. The departure of Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II has left the once strong position group in shambles. These two linebackers set the tone for the defense a lot, especially Schooler. There are just a lot of question remarks surrounding the defense and the on-going pandemic has only exacerbated that even more.

Ryan Wohl, Under (@ryan_wohl)

After seeing that the Pac-12 could shorten their season to eight games, I believe that will hurt Arizona football in a huge way. Coach Sumlin has to develop a lot of young players, and with a shortened season, it will expose the Wildcats’ lack of experience, especially on the defensive side of the ball. On a positive side, I am looking forward to a new Wildcat offense led by Grant Gunnell and senior Gary Brightwell along with an impressive young backfield with guys like Nathan Tilford, Michael Wiley and freshman Frank Brown Jr. The over/under of 3.5 is very high for this football team and that is why I am taking the under with my prediction of Arizona winning two games in this pandemic football season. 

C.J. Lala, Under (@cjlala43)

In a hypothetical eight-game Pac-12 season, the Arizona Wildcats would face these teams in their division: ASU, Colorado, UCLA, USC and Utah. Their final three games would be made up of three teams in the North Division. The Wildcats lost a lot of talent this off-season through the transfer portal with impact starters such as linebackers Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II along with safety Scottie Young Jr. — who all decided to play for different schools this season. After the Wildcats lost so much talent on the defensive side of the ball, it will be tough to stop the high powered offenses in this conference. 

One team that has recently struggled against Arizona is Colorado, who lost its head coach, Mel Tucker, to Michigan State University. Arizona does not match up favorably against the teams from the north. Their lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball will be exposed against these teams, who each scored over thirty points on the Wildcats last season. If Arizona was to play a hypothetical eight-game season, I think the Wildcats would win less than 3.5 games. 

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