Rich Rodriguez led Arizona to a 10-win season in 2014 and the Pac-12 South title. What are the chances of the Wildcats returning to the Pac-12 title game? We examine with 5Dimes odds.
Young Talent Abounds
Arizona hadn't won double-digit games since going 12-1 under Dick Tomey in 1998 with that Desert Swarm defense. Rodriguez of course was canned by Michigan after three seasons in 2010 despite the fact that UM improved its records in each of those years. RichRod got the last laugh as his replacement, "Michigan Man" Brady Hoke, was fired after last season.
Arizona pulled off one of the big upsets of last season, winning at then-No. 2 Oregon 31-24 on Oct. 2, 2014. The Ducks got their payback with a 51-13 rout in the Pac-12 Championship Game in Santa Clara, Calif. The Wildcats then were beaten 38-30 by Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 19th in the final Associated Press Top 25.
Rodriguez's teams are always fun to watch as they run the spread offense. He may have unearthed a star in quarterback Anu Solomon. Now a sophomore, Solomon is the first holdover quarterback starter at Arizona since Nick Foles in 2010-11. Solomon completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,793 yards, 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That yardage total led all FBS freshman quarterbacks. Solomon, the first freshman ever to start a season opener for Arizona, also rushed for 291 yards and two scores. He reminds me a bit of Marcus Mariota; both are from Hawaii (Solomon played high school ball in Las Vegas).
Arizona also has one of the better young running backs in the nation in Nick Wilson. He rushed 236 times for 1,375 yards and 16 scores last year as a freshman. Solomon's leading receiver, Cayleb Jones (73 catches for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns), also returns. Three starting linemen have to be replaced. Solomon is +5500 at 5Dimes to win the Heisman and Wilson is +8500.
Five starters are back on defense, led by the incomparable Scooby Wright. All the linebacker did last season was win the Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award and the Bednarik Award, all given annually to the nation’s top defender. He was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and ranked in the top five among FBS players for total tackles (163), tackles for loss (29.0), sacks (14.0) and forced fumbles (6). He was a unanimous All-American. Wright is +12500 to win the Heisman.
Breaking Down Schedule
Arizona shouldn't have too much trouble running the table in its non-conference slate as it hosts Texas-San Antonio on Sept. 3 as a 30-point favorite, visits Nevada (might be tricky) on Sept. 12 and hosts Northern Arizona on Sept. 19. The Pac-12 opener is home to UCLA (which is a 2.5-point favorite) on Sept. 26. The Wildcats played their worst offensive games of the season by far at UCLA last year, losing 17-7. Arizona didn't score for the final 57 minutes and was held to just 255 total yards. Solomon was 18-for-48 for 175 yards and a touchdown pass to Jones on the Wildcats' opening drive.
On Oct. 3, the Cats visit Stanford (9-point favorite) from the North Division and probably won't win there. Those teams didn't play last season. On Oct. 10, Oregon State visits Tucson; those schools didn't play in 2014, either. On Oct. 17, Arizona visits Colorado, which the Wildcats should win. They beat the Buffs 38-20 last season. Oct. 24 should also be a win as UA hosts Washington State. The Cats put up 59 on the Cougars in a 22-point win in 2014. Then the schedule toughens appreciably. On Halloween, Arizona heads to Washington; the Cats won 27-26 over the Huskies last season on a 47-yard field goal as time expired. On Nov. 7, Arizona visits Pac-12 South favorite USC (7.5-point favorite). The Trojans beat Arizona 28-26 last season as the Cats missed a 36-yard field goal in the final seconds. On Nov. 14, Utah (3-point dog) visits Tucson. The Utes were blown out at home in this series 42-10 last year. The regular season concludes as usual for Arizona against Arizona State (4-point favorite), this time in Tempe. Arizona won the Territorial Cup with a 42-35 victory in 2014, clinching the Pac-12 South in the process.
The one good thing about this schedule is that Arizona does miss Oregon. UA has a wins total of 7, with the 'over' a -140 favorite. It is +700 to win the division again and +1400 to win the conference title game. To play in New Year's Six bowl game again, Arizona is +350 on the college football odds board and not to is -530.
NCAAF Free Pick: Program is definitely on right track but I don't see a Pac-12 South repeat in the cards. Go 'over' the wins total as I project an 8-4 regular-season mark.