Arizona football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Wildcats, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the Arizona Offense
As long as Rich Rodriguez is overseeing the read-option in Tucson, the Arizona offense is going to be fine. The Cats have averaged no less than 33.5 points per game in each of the coach’s four seasons, a trend that should continue in 2016.
The backfield features returning starters in QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson. But Brandon Dawkins and Orlando Bradford, respectively, are challenging the junior incumbents, a competitive environment that ought to make everyone better.
For Arizona to go from potent to unstoppable, the team needs to stay healthy, the line must block better and someone has to replace Cayleb Jones at outside receiver. The front wall is brimming with potential, though it must improve in pass protection.
It’s time for 6-3 Trey Griffey to finally step up on a consistent basis, complementing the team’s abundance of shifty slot receivers. Cam Denson converted from cornerback in the spring to infuse a deep threat option into the passing game.
Biggest Key To The Arizona Offense
Just how tight are the backfield competitions? QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson have two things in common—they’re the incumbents and they’re prone to injury. And because of the latter, the door has been cracked open for sophomores Brandon Dawkins and Orlando Bradford, respectively. The athletic Dawkins, who did some nice things off the bench against Arizona State, has narrowed the gap on Solomon. Bradford, meanwhile, has at least earned 10-12 touches a game with his ability to bounce off tacklers like a bowling bowl headed toward the pins.
What You Need to Know About the Arizona Defense
Fed up with his kids getting shoved around, Rich Rodriguez cleaned house on his defensive staff. He brought Marcel Yates in from Boise State to inspire a youth movement designed to impact both Saturdays and Signing Day.
In the spring, Yates and his new assistants got their first good look at a unit that yielded at least 49 points in half of the final 10 contests. While the new staffers aren’t miracle workers, they do expect to initiate positive change out of a yet-to-be-determined base alignment.
Progress, though, will have to happen without last season’s three best defenders, LB Scooby Wright, DE Reggie Gilbert and S Will Parks. While the Cats are likely to be undermanned once again, they’re still flush in quality athletes in the back seven.
Linebackers Paul Magloire and DeAndre’ Miller, in particular, are positioned to flourish in a new defense that puts a premium on explosive playmakers.
Biggest Key To The Arizona Defense
Deciding on a base. The base alignment for first-year coordinator Marcel Yates has been a closely guarded secret, partly because the situation is fluid and undetermined. Yates spent the spring installing his defense and getting a better handle on his inherited personnel. The Wildcats will likely line up in a 4-2-5 or 3-4-4, depending on where the greatest concentration of talent exists. A lot will hinge on health and depth, areas of great concern entering the new season.
Arizona Will Be Far Better If…
Yates is fielding head coaching opportunities by December. The Wildcats need the overhauled defensive staff to be a smashing success after the team allowed at least 30 points in nine of the final 10 games in 2015. Arizona swooned in all phases after star LB Scooby Wright suffered a lengthy injury. And now that Wright is off to the NFL, the Cats need to get their act together by developing more playmakers who can deliver week-in and week-out. The offense will be fine, but Arizona’s potential is capped if the D remains deplorable.
Best Offensive Player
Junior QB Anu Solomon. Yeah, somewhat curious choice considering he’s currently being challenged by Brandon Dawkins for the starting gig. But Solomon is vulnerable not because he lacks the skills to thrive at the position, but because he has trouble staying healthy. As a two-year starter, he’s produced 53 total touchdowns while displaying a strong grasp of Rich Rodriguez’s system. Plus, who’s better on a star-less offense that failed to produce an all-leaguer in 2015?
Best Defensive Player
Senior LB Paul Magloire. Talk up Magloire today. Look real smart tomorrow. The senior, along with junior LB DeAndre’ Miller, is on the verge of a breakout campaign in the new defensive set. Magloire is part-linebacker and part-safety, just the type of versatile defender the Wildcats can employ in a multitude of different ways. When permitted to impact the game as a pass rusher, run stopper and pass defender, he’ll pile up numbers that attract the attention of all-league voters and NFL scouts.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Senior LB Cody Ippolito. Alright, so Ippolito alone won’t transform the Wildcat program in 2016. But he can be rather influential to a defense starving for his brand of leadership and junkyard dog mentality. Ippolito can channel his pal, Scooby Wright, with a rugged, no-quit demeanor that bleeds into the rest of the two-deep. And after missing two of the last three seasons to knee injuries, the 6-2, 257-pounder will serve as an inspiration every time he suits up and takes the field.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Wildcats win eight regular season games. Okay, not a stretch for a program that went 10-4 and played in the Pac-12 Championship Game just two years ago. However, even with a manageable September that won’t require a single road trip, Arizona simply doesn’t boast 10-win personnel. The defense is a work in progress and both special teamers are gone. Beat last year’s mark even before getting to the bowl game, and 2016 can go down as a rebound year in Tucson.
Nov. 25 vs. Arizona State. The battle for the Territorial Cup will always matter in these parts, because the Sun Devils and the Wildcats really don’t like one another. Plus, instate bragging rights can impact the decisions of some of the region’s more coveted recruits. ASU has won three of the last four in the series, which means Rich Rodriguez is 1-3 versus Todd Graham. Dropping to 1-4, particularly in Tucson, is not the kind of feeling RichRod wants to experience at the end of another regular season.
2015 Fun Stats
– Yards per rush: Arizona 5.5 – Opponents 4.5
– Penalty yards per game: Arizona 48.6 – Opponents 71.9
– Third-down percentage: Arizona 41% – Opponents 46%