2011 Record: (4-8, 2-7 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez (first year at Arizona, 120-84-2 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2010 Alamo Bowl (lost to Oklahoma St 36-10)
Big Name Out of Conference Opponent: 9/8 vs Oklahoma State
Must Win: 9/1 vs Toledo, 9/15 vs SC St
Swing Games: 9/29 vs Oregon State, 11/3 at UCLA, 11/10 vs Colorado, 11/17 at Utah, 11/23 vs Arizona St
Stats to Cheer: 227 plays of 10 or more yards in 2011 (3rd in Pac-12, 15th in Nation)
Stat to Fear: had just 10 sacks in 2011 (last in Pac-12, 115th in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 6; Defense: 6; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: S Marquis Flowers (68 tackles), CB Shaquille Richardson (47 tackles, 4 INTs)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Matt Scott (776 yds passing, 4 TD, 2 INT in 2010), RB Ka'Deem Carey (425 yds rushing, 6 TD) WR Dan Buckner (42 rec), C Kyle Quinn
CFBZ: Which players on offense look like they are going to be a good fit for RichRod's scheme?
Kyle Kensing: First and foremost is Matt Scott. Scott's a fifth year senior who contributed significantly in 2010 while Nick Foles rehabbed from a knee injury. He played in a system similar to Rodriguez's while at California Southern Section power Corona Centennial and should acclimate well to the offense.
I also expect running back Ka'Deem Carey to break out as the feature back in Rodriguez's system. Carey came on strong in the latter half of last season, and will be used more frequently in the zone read. Greg Nwoko and Taimi Tutogi are solid power back options to support Carey, freshman J.T. Washington looked impressive in the little bit of high school footage I've seen, and could serve as a third down back. Daniel Jenkins was in competition for the feature role Carey is taking over, putting up his best numbers in November.
Overall, UA will have no trouble running the ball. And Scott's a proven passer, which will make for enough of a varied look to keep the offense rolling.
CFBZ: Jeff Casteel has taken over the defense. Do you think we will see improvement in year one or is this a turnaround that will take a bit longer on defense?
Kyle Kensing Year One of Casteel's defense will not be pretty. UA is paper thin at linebacker, especially with Brian Wagner quitting. The line is unproven. That's a tough combination. A possible benefit for Casteel, though, is if you have to rebuild a unit, might as well completely blow it up and start from scratch. Las Vegas doesn't build new casinos with elements from the old; the old are leveled to rubble. The Wildcat defense is in a similar situation.
CFBZ: What are the biggest reasons to be optimistic about Arizona football in 2012?
Kyle Kensing The offense has components to be explosive. The line has numerous combined starts, the running back corps is deep, and Scott is a natural for the new offense. UA also plays seven home games, including Oregon State and Colorado -- two games it probably had no business losing in 2011, but did. UA has also played Washington well in Tucson over the last few years, and the Huskies come to Arizona Stadium. Right there are three losses from a season ago that might change with a change of venue.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Kyle Kensing: A bowl bid would mark a wildly successful season. Last year, UA proved that expecting to go .500 or better by simply outscoring the opposition is no easy feat. One of the best offenses in program history was squandered, because it was constantly having to play catch up from the defense giving up big outputs. Look no further than the USC game, when Foles went off and UA managed 41 points yet still lost.
UA should put up points again this season, but the question is if its defense will see offenses anemic enough to give the offense a chance to win. 6-6 would be the brass ring: Toledo, South Carolina State, Oregon State, Colorado, Arizona State and UCLA are the most winnable games. 7-5 (add Washington and maybe, maybe Oklahoma State though that's a stretch, to the other six as possible Ws) would be astounding. USC and Oregon are complete forgot-about-its. Stanford is undergoing some change and may not be the juggernaut of the last two years, but UA has never played well there. That's an easy one to pencil in for an L.
Mike Stoops got Arizona to the level right above mediocrity for three seasons before the bottom dropped out last year and he was fired after winning just one of his first five. The Wildcats have turned to the somewhat controversial Rich Rodriguez to get their program headed in the right direction. RichRod was very successful at West Virginia but ultimately left them to go to Michigan. At Michigan he was just a bad fit and never really focused on defensive side of the football. At Arizona, RichRod has already taken more of interest in defensive simply by hiring Jeff Casteel from West Virginia.
RichRod inherits red-shirt senior QB Matt Scott and that should help Arizona have a good year offensively. Arizona has some weapons offensively and I would look for the Wildcats to be able to hand with some teams on their schedule because of their ability to score points. On defense it's going to be a work in progress. Not only will the Wildcats be switching to a new scheme but they will be doing so while playing a lot of underclassmen.
From a schedule standpoint, Arizona drew the short straw as they must face the top two teams from the Pac-12 North on the road (Oregon and Stanford). They also have two tough out of conference match-ups as they start off with Toledo and Oklahoma State. Toledo will score some points and they will be a tough first game for RichRod and Arizona. Overall, this is a re-building year for Arizona but I would look for some improvement over last year depending on how quickly RichRod and Matt Scott can get the offense going.
2012 Prediction: 5-7
Previous 2012 Previews:
Big 12: Kansas