Rich Rodriguez has done a tremendous job in his first three years at Arizona. After back-to-back 8-5 campaigns in 2012 and 2013, Rodriguez guided the Wildcats to a Pac-12 South title and 10-4 record overall (10-2 in regular season). It was their first double-digit win season since going 12-1 way back in 1998.
Arizona started out the year 5-0, which included a shocking 31-24 upset win at Oregon (24-point underdog), but they would lose 2 of their next 3 before closing out with 4 straight wins. Their 42-35 victory over in-state rival Arizona State in the finale, coupled with UCLA’s loss at home to Stanford, propelled them into the Pac-12 title game. The second time around, Oregon whooped up on the Wildcats 51-13. Arizona followed that up with a 30-38 upset loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, which wasn’t a big surprise given the huge letdown factor after coming so close to a Pac-12 championship.
Arizona will have 13 returning starters for Rodriguez’s 4th go around in Tucson, with most of their key pieces coming back. However, a difficult schedule (5 conference away games). a new found target on their back, and a loaded Pac-12 South will make it hard for them to repeat as division champs.
|11/21||@ Arizona State|
Estimated Wins: 7.01
*We take the win chance by using the college football win percentage chart for each point spread
Last year the Wildcats averaged a respectable 34.5 ppg and 464 ypg behind a balanced offensive attack that put up 182 ypg on the ground and 282 ypg through the air. The offense was led by freshman quarterback Anu Solomon (3,793 yards, 28 TDs, 9 INTs), freshman running back Nick Wilson (1,375 yards, 16 TDs) and sophomore wide out Caleb Jones (73 catches, 1,019 yards, 9 TDs). With all 3 back for the 2015 campaign, Arizona certainly has the weapons to surpass last year’s production.
The one thing that could hold them back is an inexperienced offensive line that loses three starters from last year (all 3 started at least 2 years). While the chemsitry might not be as good, the unit isn’t in as bad as shape as you might think. They get back arguably their best linemen in senior left guard Cayman Bundage, while adding in San Jose State transfer David Catalana to take over at center and Cal transfer Freddie Tagaloa to take over at left tackle.
Not many people expected Arizona to have as much success running the ball as they did in 2014, as they were essentially replacing their all-time rushing leader (Ka’Deem Carey) with a true freshman. While Wilson didn’t match Carey’s 1,885 yards, his 5.8 yards/carry was slightly better than Carey’s (5.4). As long as Wilson stays healthy, he could end up making Carey’s time at the top of the all-time charts short lived.
While Jones figures to be the primary target in the passing game again in 2015, Arizona has a number of other talented wide outs who figure to play big roles this season. Most notabely juniors Samajie Grant, Nate Phillips and Trey Griffey.
Rodriguez hasn’t had much trouble generating offense wherever he’s coached, but he’s not been able to have that same kind of success on the defensive side of the ball. Arizona allowed 28.2 ppg and a whopping 451 ypg in 2014, which was a slight drop off from the 24.2 ppg and 401 ypg they gave up in 2013.
While the Wildcats only have 6 returning starters on this side of the ball and have to replace 4 of their top 7 tacklers from last year, they get back one of the best defensive players in the country in junior middle linebacker Scooby Wright, who led the nation with 163 tackles, while also racking up 14 sacks.
The defensive front returns all 3 starters, while also adding in 2 highly touted junior college transfers in Anthony Fotu and Timmy Hamilton. Fotu is expected to start right away and Hamilton figures to be in the rotation.
Not only does Arizona get back their main guy in Wright at linebacker, they also get back junior strong-stide linebacker Derrick Turituri. As long as the unit stays healthy, it will be one of the elite starting groups in the Pac-12.
The big concern with the defense is the secondary, which loses three starters, including 2nd-Team All-Pac-12 safety Jared Tevis. Not exactly a good sign, given the Wildcats were torched for 281 ypg through the air, while allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 65.4% of their passes. They do get back sophomore corner Jarvis McCall and talented SPUR back William Parks.
Regular Season Win Total
Pac-12 South Odds
Pac-12 Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
*Odds updated live on our college football odds page
Rodriguez clearly has Arizona moving in the right direction and has a lot of talent to work with in 2015. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, I don’t think they are going to be able to match last year’s success. The Pac-12 South is as strong as it’s been in years with USC, UCLA, Arizona State and Utah all looking like they will be improved from last year.
My biggest concern with Arizona is their schedule. While they get a favorable draw with Washington State, Washington and Oregon State out of the North, they go from having 5 home conference games to 5 away games this year. They also find themselves in a rare spot without a single bye week all season.
I have the Wildcats losing on the road at Stanford, USC and Arizona, while also dropping one of their two homes against UCLA or Utah to finish up at 5-4 in the conference and 8-4 overall. While I’m only slightly predicting Arizona to eclipse their win total of 7.5, I have a hard time not seeing this team win at least 8 games.
Win Total Prediction
I asked some more experts on Arizona football what they thought about the Wildcats’s upcoming season. Here’s what they had to say.
OVER 7.5 Wins – The Arizona Wildcats continue to be the team nobody talks about in the Pac-12 South despite them winning it last season. When I look at the schedule I see six victories right off the bat: UTSA, NAU, Nevada, Oregon State, Colorado and Washington State. The games I truly can’t see them winning are road games against Stanford and USC so that means UCLA, @ Arizona State, @ Washington and Utah are the games that will make or break Arizona’s season.
If they go 2-2 in those games, which they are more then capable of, they go 8-4. If they go 1-3 then they finish 7-5. I will say they beat Washington and Utah and lose to UCLA and Arizona State but really it is anybody’s guess with how good the Pac-12 South is this year. Final record: 8-4 (5-4 Pac-12).
UNDER 7 Wins – The Wildcats surprisingly won 10 games in the regular season last year. Obviously the oddsmakers are looking for a big drop in setting this year’s number at 7 for Arizona. We look for a drop as well and will lean UNDER here. Last year’s performance was a bit of a mirage as this team made it all the way to the Pac 12 Championship game despite being outgained 469 to 425 in conference play. For the season, the Cats allowed 5.7 yards per play while gaining 5.7 yards per play. They basically played their opponents dead even yardage wise last year which is not the sign of a 10-2 type team. They came back to earth a bit at the end of the season getting crushed by Oregon in the Pac 12 Championship and then losing to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. Last year was their first winning season in conference play since 2009 and we think they regress this year. Their non-conference slate looks fairly manageable however their game @ Nevada is definitely losable (Zona beat Nevada by just 7 at home last season). They do have an experienced QB returning in Solomon however he will be working behind a fairly inexperienced O-Line. The defense has been shaky at best under head coach Rich Rodriguez as they have allowed at least a 400 YPG average for 4 consecutive seasons. The Pac 12 road slate is tough with games at Stanford, at USC, at Arizona State, and at Washington. We wouldn’t be surprised if they were tripped up at Nevada early in the year and then go on to a sub .500 mark in conference play. We’ll look at the UNDER here.
OVER 7.5 Wins – After a 10-win regular season last year, 7.5 wins seems very low to me, and I will certainly take the over. I think this is just a case of the Pac-12 South being wide open. The only team that would be a surprise if they came out on top would be Colorado. The other five teams all have a legitimate chance to make it to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Arizona’s both helped and hurt by their schedule this season. The two Pac-12 North teams they miss are Oregon and Cal, which most people have as the two best teams in that division. Also, having UCLA and Utah at home this season will likely help as well. And the non-conference season is exceedingly weak, with all three of those schools dealing with turnover at important positions.
But the Wildcats are hurt by the fact that there are no bye weeks. So if there’s an injury to a key contributor, all of the sudden, this team could be in serious trouble, as there won’t be any time for guys to rest in between games.
I think Arizona goes 9-3 in the regular season, 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Most of the key players are back from last year’s team, and all have another year of experience under their belt. Anu Solomon did all of that last year as a redshirt freshman. It’s only natural to think that he’ll be improved this season. The offensive line loses three starters, but the players replacing them seem to be better than the guys that left. I would put three losses in there as Washington, USC, and ASU.
But the Pac-12 South is nuts, and anything could happen. Except Colorado winning. That won’t happen.
UNDER 7.5 Wins – Coach Rich Rodriguez has a different theory than other coaches in the NCAA, and that is to recruit “Our Kinda Guy.” Arizona’s kind of player is a hungry underrated player who is a hard worker, and great teammate and has something to prove. This makes for a team who has a lot of potential if coached correctly.
Last year Arizona was unranked in pre-season polls, no one had the team on their radar, yet they ended up 7-2 in the Pac-12 beating everyone but USC and UCLA.
For Arizona to win seven games, they would have to beat two out of the three of the following schools: USC, UCLA at home, and Arizona State. True, they don’t have a bye week this year, but I have to think they will beat two.
Under, but only by .5: seven wins.
OVER 7.5 Wins
2014 Results: 10-4 SU; 5-9 ATS; 1st Pac 12 South
What could have been. Arizona opened last year 5-0 including an outright upset of Oregon in Eugene as a 21-point underdog but suffered the proverbial letdown as the Wildcats lost the following week at home against USC. Still, they were able to make it to the Pac 12 Championship but could not match the effort in the first meeting with the Ducks as they were blown out by 38 points and then lost to Boise St. in the Fiesta Bowl. That isn’t exactly the type of finish you want but Arizona brings back a bunch and has a chance to make another run in the Pac 12 South.
2015 Best Case Scenario: 10-2
Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon was brilliant at times last season and in others, he looked like a freshman. He has a lot to learn still but talent returns everywhere and he can get a lot better. The good news is that Arizona avoids Oregon during the regular season but if the Wildcats win their division, the Ducks likely await them. A 7-1 start is more than possible with the lone expected loss to be at Stanford but that game is no guaranteed loss either. They close the season with three of their last four games on the road and that is where the division will be decided.
2015 Worse Case Scenario: 8-4
While the Ducks fall off the schedule, five of Arizona’s nine conference games are on the road and none are going to be considered sure things. The non-conference schedule sets up for an early 3-0 start before facing UCLA at home but the Wildcats have to avoid a trap game at Nevada. Last season was their first 10-win season since 1998 so was it just a fluke or does Rich Rodriguez have this team going in the right direction? That game at Stanford could tell us a lot of how the rest of the season could pan out.
2015 Prediction: 8-4
Arizona went 4-1 in true road games last season, a 10-point loss at UCLA being the difference. But now the road is tougher to travel this year with Stanford, USC and Arizona St. all top 25 teams, Washington no pushover and Colorado likely to be a much improved team. They won three games by four points or less last season and unfortunately for the Wildcats, that could go against them this season.