Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: #15 Arizona Wildcats

Arizona LogoThe Wildcats arrived a year ahead of schedule under now 4th year head coach Rich Rodriguez when they won the Pac-12 South division in 2014. Back-to-back 8-5 seasons in his first two years in Tucson were good but winning 10 games, going to the Pac-12 Championship Game and earning a Fiesta Bowl bid in year three were above expectations for a freshman quarterback, freshman running back only a handful of returning defensive starters. The rest of the quality teams in the crowded Pac-12 South will be gunning for the Wildcats in 2015, so Rich Rod better have his team ready.

Arizona Sophomore Quarterback Anu Solomon
Arizona Sophomore Quarterback Anu Solomon

Sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon returns in 2015 and what a freshman season he had! Sometimes, in our neck of the woods, we tend to not see past the regional teams but Solomon was hard to miss as he finished 2014 with over 3,700 yards passing, 28 touchdowns with only 9 interceptions. I don’t care what conference you’re playing it, that’s a solid freshman season. Fellow sophomore Nick Wilson will continue his role at tailback after a 16 touchdown, 1,300 yard season in 2014. Solomon will return six of his seven favorite targets from last year including Texas transfer Cayleb Jones who caught 73 balls in 2014 for over 1,000 yards. Opposite of Jones will be speedy Samajie Grant who accounted for 6 touchdown receptions. The offensive line is where Arizona will need to figure some things out. The Wildcats only return two starters from last year’s squad and hopefully they can keep Solomon off of his back in 2015 because he was sacked 40 times last season, a lot of it by his own doing. Anchored by senior left guard Cayman Bundage, the offensive line won’t be a young group as the newcomers are all juniors and seniors but lacking in experience.

It’s easy to spot the star of the defense because he’s always the one in the backfield the entire game. Junior middle linebacker Scooby Wright might be one of the most fun players to watch in all of college football. All he did was win the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors along with the Nagurski, Lombardi & Bednarik awards for 2014. Wright finished the season with 163 tackles and will lead five other returning starters on defense. With him at linebacker will be senior Will Parks, who had a great season in his own right with 81 tackles, junior Derrick Turituri and junior Cody Ippolito. The Wildcats return two defensive lineman from 2014 who aren’t the biggest guys but are quick enough to give those big opposing offensive lineman fits with their quickness. If there were an Achilles heel to the Arizona defense, it would be the secondary in 2015. Sophomore corner back Jarvis McCall is the lone returning starter and he’ll be leading a group who has playing experience but not many meaningful snaps in 2014. With that being said, I think opposing quarterbacks will find out the hard way early in the season that whatever direction sophomore corner back Cam Denson is playing, won’t be the direction to throw the football.

Arizona Wildcats Head Coach Rich Rodriguez
Arizona Wildcats Head Coach Rich Rodriguez

Whoever is in charge of making the conference schedules for each team must be an Arizona State fan because they did not do the Wildcats any favors with only four home conference games and five on the road. The season opens on the opening Thursday night of the season at home with the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners out of the Conference-USA. They’ll hit the road in week 2 to take on a dangerous Nevada team in Reno. They’ll come home to take on FCS opponent Northern Arizona before their conference opener against UCLA to close out the month of September. October begins with a road game in Palo Alto against a resurgent Stanford team with their eyes on the Pac-12 North crown. Could this be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship on December 4th? The following week, the Wildcats head back home to welcome the Oregon State Beavers to Arizona Stadium before hitting the road again to take on Colorado in Boulder. When October 24th rolls around, it’s time to buckle down for the Wildcats as they hit a pretty tricky stretch of games before the season ends. This stretch of games begins with, I think, a rapidly improving Washington State team at home followed by a long road trip up to Seattle to face the Washington Huskies to end the month of October. November begins with the toughest road trip of the season when the Wildcats hit the streets of L.A. to take on the mighty USC Trojans who are now almost back to full strength scholarship-wise. The next week its back home for the Wildcats’ final game in Arizona Stadium (unless they finish the season as division champs with the best record) against the Utah Utes. November 21st will be the final regular season game of the year for Arizona and it will be for the Territorial Cup against bitter rival Arizona State. The Territorial Cup is a series in which the road team had won four straight until the last two seasons but Arizona is looking make it back-to-back wins over the Sun Devils for the first time since 2007-2008.

Arizona burst onto the national scene in 2014 with their freshman quarterback and wide open style of offense. This season a lot of teams will be looking to spring a trap for them and the schedule doesn’t do them any favors but Head Coach Rich Rodriguez has been in these situations before and now he has the team to make a run at the Pac-12 Championship. If Scooby Wright can keep the defense in line and Anu Solomon can keep the offense chugging along, Arizona is going to be a fun team to watch in 2015 and I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if they were in the hunt for the South title again in 2015.

Arizona Stadium - Capacity: 56,037
Arizona Stadium – Capacity: 56,037

2015 Arizona Wildcats Schedule

Sept 3rd            UT-San Antonio (Thurs)
Sept 12th          at Nevada
Sept 19th          Northern Arizona
Sept 26th         UCLA
Oct 3rd             at Stanford
Oct 10th           Oregon State
Oct 17th            at Colorado
Oct 24th           Washington State
Oct 31st            at Washington
Nov 7th            at USC
Nov 14th          Utah
Nov 21st           at Arizona State
Nov 28th         BYE WEEK

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