The Arizona Wildcats are going to be pretty good next season.
At least, that’s the opinion of folks who are creating their top-25 lists for 2015 now that the 2014 campaign has officially come to an end.
The Wildcats finished last season 10-4 (7-2 in Pac-12), won the Pac-12 South and appeared in the Vizio Fiesta Bowl.
They landed at No. 19 in the final AP poll and 17 in the USA Today Coaches Poll, marking the first time they finished a season in the top 25 of either poll since 1998.
The hope is that momentum will carry into 2015, and from the looks of the admittedly too-early prognostications, it will.
Here is where the ‘Cats rank:
13. Arizona Wildcats
2014 record: 10-4, 7-2 Pac-12
Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams
Key personnel losses: WR Austin Hill, OT Mickey Baucus, C Steven Gurrola, RB Terris Jones-Grigsby, S Jared Tevis, CB Jourdon Grandon, S Tra’Mayne Bondurant
Why they might finish higher: The Wildcats won the Pac-12 South and reached the Fiesta Bowl with a freshman quarterback and tailback. Anu Solomon was a big surprise, throwing for 3,793 yards with 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions, though he struggled a bit down the stretch. Freshman Nick Wilson ran for 1,375 yards with 16 touchdowns, and sophomore Cayleb Jones had 73 catches for 1,019 yards with nine scores. The best news: Sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright III is coming back after winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik and Rotary Lombardi awards in his first season as a starter.
Why they might finish lower: Arizona will have to replace three starting offensive linemen and three starters in the secondary. Two of the team’s top three tacklers — Tevis and Grandon — are departing after combining to make 204 stops, five sacks and five interceptions. Arizona’s Pac-12 schedule this season will include road games at Stanford, Colorado, Washington, USC and Arizona State.
15. Arizona (10-4)
Why No. 15? Because the Wildcats return the heart of a team that won the Pac-12 South. There might be some competition at quarterback, but look for sophomore Anu Solomon to hold onto his starting job. He’ll be joined by sophomore running back Nick Wilson and a gifted crop of receivers, though the Wildcats need stronger play up front. The defense might remain too spotty in the secondary to survive the regular season unscathed, but Arizona’s progression under Rich Rodriguez paints a rosy picture for this program’s future.
No. 20 Arizona Wildcats
Rich Rod is coming off a 10-win season. Quarterback Anu Solomon will be back as a sophomore, with all the skill players surrounding him. Scooby Wright will man the middle of Arizona’s defense. The Wildcats had fortune on their side in 2014 one-score games. That could turn.
17) Arizona Wildcats (10-4)
Rich Rodriguez won the Pac-12 South with a relatively young team. QB Anu Solomon will enter his second season with nearly his full complement of receivers and RB Nick Wilson, though replacing both tackles is a concern. All-everything LB Scooby Wright will once again anchor the defense, though it must replace several key starters.