Rich Rodriguez’s tenure got off to a strong start in 2012 with an 8-5 finish and bowl win. That kind of debut probably has Tucson’s most optimistic residents thinking Rose Bowl. At the very least, challenging for the Pac-12 South crown seems reasonable.
With the clear favorite to start at quarterback sidelined for the spring, it calls into question how much the Wildcats can accomplish offensively in the course of the next 15 practices. If the coaching staff can get a pitiful defense in shape, though, Rodriguez will likely chalk spring up as a win.
Stability Factor (1 = Chaos; 5 = Rock Solid): 4
A year ago, the Wildcats were preparing for their first spring under Rodriguez’s tutelage. Aside from adjusting to new coaches, that also meant learning RichRod’s funky spread-option scheme and Jeff Casteel’s equally funky 3-3-5 defense.
This spring, the waters are pretty tranquil in Tucson. The Wildcats made it through the offseason with no major coaching moves. Personnel-wise, all major contributors return of defense. The biggest adjustments will come on offense, where the Wildcats must replace star signal caller Matt Scott.
Under the Microscope: Defensive Line
The Wildcats’ defensive line returns five of six players from last season’s two-deep. Unfortunately for Casteel and DL coach Bill Kirelawich – owner of possibly the best mustache in the Pac-12 – the three-man front didn’t exactly bear down last fall. The Wildcats’ defensive front struggled all season to generate a consistent push at the line of scrimmage and rarely forced negative plays.
Improvement is needed quickly up front for UA to even have a crack at slowing opponents.
Locked and Loaded: Running Back
Arizona returns the most productive running back in the country from 2012, Ka’Deem Carey. The junior led the nation in rushing as a sophomore and nearly eclipsed 2,000 yards on the season. He hit paydirt 23 times, tying for fourth nationally in rushing touchdowns.
Carey has nothing to prove on the field. Away from it, he may need to prove he should stay on the team.
Following run-ins with the both the real law and campus rent-a-cops, Carey’s status with the team appears somewhat cloudy. RichRod will have to take a long look at his reserves in the spring in case he finds himself without Carey’s services in the fall.
Jockeying for Position: Quarterback
JUCO transfer Jesse Scroggins looks like the odds-on favorite to start the season behind center. However, following foot surgery, Rodriguez has indicated that the former USC signee won’t see any significant action this spring.
As such, senior B.J. Denker, who backed up Scott last fall, will likely lead the first-team offense in the spring. Should Scroggins suffer any setbacks with his recovery now or in the fall, the Wildcats will be counting on either Denker or walk-on Nick Isham to take over.
Name to Know: Jonathan McKnight
If the last name sounds familiar, it’s because Jonathan’s brother Joe starred as a running back at Pac-12 South rival USC in the not-so-distant past. Jonathan actually plays on the other side of the ball and does so really well. After blowing out his knee in 2011, Jonathan came back strong in ‘12. Now, he may be the best cover corner in the conference.
Spring will be a success if...: The D does its homework.
Arizona finished near the bottom of the Pac-12 in just about about every relevant statistical category. Opposing offenses pretty much had their way with the Wildcats. If UA couldn’t find a way to score about 35 points, a loss was all but guaranteed.
Chalk year one up as a learning experience for Casteel’s crew. At this point, though, his defenders should be ready to move past the basics and start boning up on the finer points of the 3-3-5 Stack.