Last Season: 8-5 (4-5) Pac-12
The Arizona Wildcats were right in the middle of the Pac-12 last year, talent wise. If not for the blowout upset over Oregon on senior night, they would have ended their season on a four-game losing streak and likely missed out on bowl play. Since they did take the shocking win, they earned themselves a trip to the AdvoCare V100 Bowl and ended their season on a high note with a win over Boston College, 42-19.
Arizona football will be without the AdvoCare V100 Bowl MVP, quarterback BJ Denker. A two-year starter who spent his first two seasons at junior college, Denker finished his Arizona career as the best rushing QB in team history (1,023 career rushing yards). But as a passer, he was below the Pac-12 average. Last year, he finished eighth in the conference in completion percentage (61.2%), tenth in passing yards (2,516), tied for tenth in passing touchdowns (16), and tenth in passer efficiency rating (126.8). Some of his statistical production (or lack thereof) can be explained by Arizona’s system, as he actually ran for the sixth-most yards (949) and fifth-most touchdowns (13) of any player at any position in the conference. By the way, this has nothing to do with Denker as a player, but feels like something worth mentioning: his twitter handle is @VanillaV1ck7.
Since quarterback is far-and-away the most important position on any football team, it’s odd when a veteran signal-caller moves on and isn’t the most missed player the next season. That’s exactly the situation at Arizona though. There’s no question Arizona’s biggest loss this offseason is running back Ka’Deem Carey. Last year, he finished third in the country in rushing yards (1,885), second in rushing yards per game (157.1), fourth in all-purpose yards per game (171.5), and touched the ball more than any non-quarterback in the Pac-12. He ran for over 100 yards in each of his final 16 games as a Wildcat and was named Pac-12 offensive player of the year and an All-American for the second time in as many years.
Keys This Season
Quarterback – If the Pac-12 network had their own version of HBO’s “Hard Knocks”, the Arizona Wildcats’ quarterback battle would be must-see TV. They started spring ball with seven QBs on the roster and no favorite among them for coach Rich Rodriguez. During “Super Wildcat Weekend,” (the weekend of the annual spring football game) the team put on a few challenges for fans: kick a 50-yard field goal to win $500, out-throw a Wildcat QB to win $250, and enter a drawing to win a chance to call a play during the spring game.
Coach Rodriguez said the contests were for fun, but also said, “if there’s a guy out kicking 50-yard field goals that’s a student, I need to get him on the team. If there’s a quarterback that can throw farther than my quarterbacks, then I need to look at him too.” Not the statement of a coach confident in his signal-callers.
Running Back – Carey’s cleats are going to be tough to fill as well – especially since his backup, Daniel Jenkins, graduated, and Jared Baker, the only other RB on the roster who has touched the ball in a game, tore his ACL in the regular season finale. The offensive line will be relatively strong with quite a few returning starters, so it’s pretty safe to assume whoever Rich Rodriguez plugs in will be serviceable, if not Carey-esque.
It’s not going to be a fun season for Wildcat fans. Arizona and Washington are the only Pac-12 schools who will have a new quarterback under center this season, so unless one of their six QB-candidates (or a student with a rocket arm?) turns out to be a diamond in the rough, they’re going to struggle.
Ka’Deem Carey and BJ Denker were responsible for the ball on 51.5% of Arizona’s plays last season – through their rushing attempts alone. If you include plays where Denker threw the ball, the two players were the primary option on 911 of the Wildcats’ 1,030 offensive plays last season. Of those 1,030 plays – only 11 were made by players currently on the roster (excluding the injured Baker, who carried the ball 27 times last year but might not see the field this season). Even with 2012’s biggest surprise, receiver Austin Hill, back from injury, it feels like a “rebuilding year” for Rodriguez and the Wildcats. With the rest of the conference picking up where they left off last year, don’t be surprised to see Arizona finish near the bottom of the Pac-12 South.