What the preview mags are saying about the 2016 Arizona Wildcats
For the Arizona Wildcats, the 2015 season could not end soon enough.
Though Rich Rodriguez’s team finished the year with a 7-6 record — a mark that included a win over No. 10 Utah and a win over New Mexico in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl — the team in no way came close to defending the Pac-12 South crown it earned in 2014.
There are a lot of reasons, of course, for that, as one could point to a tough schedule that included no bye week as well as injuries that sidelined stars Scooby Wright, Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson, as well as many of the team’s backups.
The calendar has since flipped to 2016 and because of that there is renewed hope in the Old Pueblo. Gone are Wright, receiver Cayleb Jones and safety Will Parks, but Solomon and Wilson are healthy, while many of the young players who were pressed into duty last year now have some valuable experience under their belts.
Last season, Arizona was 18th in all of college football in total offense, averaging 495 yards per game, while scoring 37.4 points per outing. Little is expected to change there, as Rodriguez is known for piling up the points and there is no reason to expect different in 2016. Where there will be a difference is on the other side of the ball, as the Wildcats revamped their defensive coaching staff and now will be led by former Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates.
What it will all lead to is anyone’s guess, as few would be surprised to see Arizona near the bottom of the division standings yet, at the same time, would not see it as a total shock if they won their fair share of games.
A look at the preseason college football magazines paints an inconsistent picture for an Arizona program that is looking to run its bowl streak to five while, maybe, contending for the Pac-12 South once again.
• Projects Arizona to finish fifth the Pac-12 South and failing to make a bowl game.
– No individual All-Conference selections
• Names Anu Solomon as the best running QB in the Pac-12
Sporting News’ Synopsis: All the personnel shifting and new staffers could make the Wildcats look different, but probably not much better. Even Colorado could catch them in the South if they don’t watch out. But with good health, Arizona may be able to at least shift the momentum back in a positive direction.
• Predicts Arizona to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South (6-6, 4-5) and face Utah State in the Arizona Bowl.
• Wildcats ranked 50th in the country.
– No individual All-Conference selections.
Athlon’s Synopsis: Rodriguez’s decision to start over on defense, with an entirely new staff and system, suggests the Wildcats will struggle to avoid their first losing season since 2011. Arizona’s only all-conference player in 2015 was a punter. This year’s club might not have any all-conference players. The defense lacks a go-to player and is undersized based on Pac-12 standards. Much spins on whether Solomon will be healthy enough to start every week, or if the Wildcats will have to start over at quarterback, as they are doing on defense.
• Projects Arizona to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South and make a bowl game (Lindy’s doesn’t project individual bowl matchups.)
• Wildcats ranked 47th in the country.
OL Jacob Alsadek
RB Nick Wilson, LB Paul Magloire
• Anu Solomon named top scrambling QB in Pac-12.
• Safety Chacho Ulloa named one of the top recruiting sleepers in Pac-12.
• Anu Solomon 24th-best QB in the nation.
• Nick Wilson 25th-best RB in the nation and 47th-best Fantasy Football RB.
• Rated UA’s 2016 class of athletes (Khalil Tate, Kahi Neves) as the third-best in the nation.
Lindy’s Synopsis: Rodriguez’s offense is never going to be an issue. The fascinating thing about this team is the defensive transition from a read-and-react outfit to a more attacking style. The Wildcats, with eight games in their home state, should make their fifth consecutive bowl, but real further upward mobility will rest on if the defense possesses a much stronger bite.
• Projects Arizona to finish third in the Pac-12 South.
• Arizona has an FPI National Ranking of 32 and ESPN gives the Wildcats a 9.3% chance at winning the Pac-12 South.
– No individual All-Conference selections.
ESPN synopsis: Rich Rodriguez returns for his fifth season — despite seemingly being mentioned for every coaching vacancy this offseason — with an experienced offensive backfield and a desire to chase the aftertaste of a 7-6 mark. He overhauled the defensive staff, reworking a unit that gave up nearly 36 points per game, in hopes of returning to 2014 glory, when Arizona won the South.
Phil Steele’s 2016 College Football Preview
• Projects Arizona to finish fifth in Pac-12 South and to miss out on a bowl game.
• Arizona ranked 52nd in the nation.
• Rates Arizona’s schedule as the 38th-toughest in the nation.
WR Samajie Grant, G Jacob Alsadek, LB DeAndre Miller, PR Nate Phillips
RB Nick Wilson, LB Michael Barton, LB Paul Magloire, CB DaVonte’ Neal
• Jacob Alsadek rates as the 25th-best G in the nation.
• 22nd-best QB unit in the nation
• 48th-best RB unit in the nation
• 38th-best WR unit in the nation
• 41st-best OL unit in the naiton
• 38th-best LB unit in the nation
Phil Steele’s synopsis: Arizona joined the conference in 1978 when it expanded to 10 teams and is the only original Pac-10 team that has not been to the Rose Bowl. Rodriguez guided UA to its 4th straight bowl berth in ’15 which is a school record. He flirted with South Carolina in the offseason and opted to stay. Arizona is one of three Pac-12 teams to play in at least seven bowls since 2008 (Oregon and Stanford). Arizona defeated a Top 10 team for a fourth straight year (Utah) The four straight winning years are the first time since 1992-1995. Last year a litany of factors were pointing down and this year, the Stock Market Indicator is +2.0 and the Wildcats go from 13 returning starters to 15. The ‘Cats could open the season 3-0 before being a dog in their next six games. They finish off with three games they could be favored in. There probably will be an upset or two along the way and as long as Rich Rod is the head coach, he usually finds a way to get them to the postseason and outperform expectations.