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CBS Sports analyst: Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez will be Pac-12 Coach of the Year

The Arizona Wildcats finished 8-5 overall but just 4-5 in conference play last season, good for fourth in the Pac-12 South division.

While four of seven CBS Sports experts have UA finishing fourth once again in 2014, three say head coach Rich Rodriguez’s guys will do better — and one said RichRod will be this season’s Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Tom Fornelli, the only analyst to pick UA to finish as high as second in the Pac-12 South (behind UCLA), said Rodriguez will win COY honors in part because of the Wildcats’ home-field advantage in key divisional games, including their Territorial Cup match-up with ASU.

While UCLA is the favorite in the South, Arizona should benefit this season from facing both Arizona State and USC in Tucson. I think that could be enough — along with overall improvement as Rodriguez enters his third year — to help the Wildcats jump to second in the division this year, which would lead to Rodriguez being rewarded.

While Rodriguez has yet to name a starting quarterback for UA’s season opener against UNLV on Aug. 29, Jerry Palm labeled UA as the Pac-12’s most underrated team.

The quarterback situation is unsettled, but whoever it is should be well protected behind a veteran offensive line. The schedule gives RichRod’s Wildcats a chance to pull a surprise or two.

The Wildcats boast one of the deepest and most talented group of wide receivers in the conference heading into the season, and analyst Jeremy Fowler said wideout Cayleb Jones will be the Pac-12’s top newcomer of 2014.

I might regret not listing Oregon frosh RB Royce Freeman, who has garnered rave reviews from Ducks camp, but Oregon’s already loaded at tailback. Jones, a Texas transfer, had an impressive spring and should be a marquee target for the next Wildcats QB.

Six of seven CBS Sports analysts picked the Bruins to win this year’s Pac-12 South title; the lone dissenter, Jerry Hinnen, said USC will win the division.