2020 Team Preview: What Can Arizona Do To Change Minds?
It remains true that in the Pac-12 Conference, Arizona is the only school from the previously existing Pac-10 – the 10 schools which were part of the conference from 1978 through 2010 – which has never made the Rose Bowl. Utah and Colorado joined the Pac-12 in 2011 and have not made the Rose Bowl, but Arizona has been part of the conference for over 40 years and still hasn’t gone to the Granddaddy on New Year’s Day. This season, Arizona is not expected to make a run for the Roses, but can the Wildcats at least improve their program so that the 2021 season might give them a chance at high-level success? The program needs a change in fortune. Let’s see if the 2020 team can reshape what is possible for the Wildcats.
The biggest changes are on the coaching staff, where every main defensive coach is gone. Paul Rhoads, who had been a successful defensive coordinator at multiple places and was then a head coach at Iowa State, was chosen by head coach Kevin Sumlin as the new defensive coordinator. Marcel Yates, the old defensive coordinator, is gone and has relocated at California’s coaching staff within the Pac-12. Rhoads has a new crew of position coaches on defense. It remains to be seen how much of a transformation this will create for Arizona’s defense.
The Wildcats Will Succeed If…
Their passing game turns chemistry into explosiveness. The chemicals in a lab can create intense reactions if mixed in a certain combination. That’s what Arizona is hoping for from its passing game, where quarterback Grant Gunnell and a veteran group of receivers all return with lots of accumulated experience and a strong rapport. Lots of college football teams either have a new quarterback or a new receiver, and in the pandemic, these players didn’t have a chance to get to know each other in spring practice, since the pandemic canceled spring ball. Arizona has seasoned receivers with a returning quarterback. If this part of the roster maxes out, the Wildcats can score enough points that their defensive weaknesses won’t show up nearly as much on a weekly basis. If Arizona is going to have a successful season, the offense will score more than 35 points per game, on average.
The Wildcats Will Fail If…
Their defense collapses due to a lack of depth. Arizona returns a lot of starters, but the second-string players on the defensive side of the ball are new. Teams need good backup defensive linemen, linebackers, and cornerbacks, and Arizona is very thin at these backup positions. New faces will have to step up as the team goes down its depth chart. Not being able to keep the starters fresh could quickly become a major headache for the coaching staff.
The Wildcats have a more favorable schedule than UCLA, and they are a better team than Colorado. Yet, in the Pac-12 South, USC is supremely talented. Arizona State has a great quarterback. Utah has a solid defense and proven coaching. It will be hard for Arizona to rise higher than fourth place, and that’s where the Wildcats will land.
Prediction: 4th in Pac-12 South