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2016 Fierce 40 Previews: #21 Arizona

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 29, 2016

#21 Arizona Wildcats

2015 Recap:

One good thing you can say about Arizxona football is that it was far from boring in 2015. The bad part was the defense that stopped absolutely nobody as they ranked 115th overall and 107 in PPG allowing nearly 36 points a game. Arizona won the New Mexico Bowl to finish the campaign at 7-6.


Coaching:
Rich Rodriguez enters his fifth year at the helm after stops at Michigan and West Virginia in a career that has spanned 22 seasons. Calvin Magee and Rod Smith will serve as co-offensive coordinators. Marcel Yates comes aboard to revamp the defense as Arizona moves to a tradional 4-3 alignment.


Offense

The Wildcats always find way to field top quality running backs and Nick Wilson was no different when he burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2014. Wilson struggled as a sophomore and was banged up all year long. Orlando Bradford looks like he has wrestled the starting job away from Wilson and the Wildcats have high hopes he is the new savior for the ground game. Getting the ground game settled will be key because the passing game returns a trio of big time receivers who are familiar with the offense and can keep the chains moving. Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant and Trey Griffey look like the mkost reliable starting trio in the Pac-10. Phillips looks like the best pro prospect of the bunch and the leader of the pack. Last year was supposed to be the year the Wildcats improved the offensive line, instead they laid the groundwork for 2016. There are no standpouts along the line but the Wildcats have more depth and experience than a season ago. Anu Solomon is not the prototypical pro quarterback or prospect that projects at the next level but he runs an efficient offense and is a proven winner.
 

Best Draft Prospects: Nate Phillips WR 7th Round 2017.

                                       Freddie Tagaloa OG UFA 2017.


Defense

First off there is no Scooby Wright to fall back on and even while playing last year he was off the field more than he was on it. The Wildcats already looked thin at linebacker even before it was apparent that Wright would not be back for 2016. DeAndre Miller looks to be the best at the position for Arizona but he, like Wright last season spent a significant amount of time on the sidelines due to inury.  The defensive line has been overhauled and most importantly Arizona is moving back to a 4-3 alignment. Luca Bruno and Sani Fuimaono are the most important people up front as Ariozna will spend more time trying to stop the run then worrying about a pass rush. Arizona allowed nearly 200 yards on the ground a contest as teams intentionally tried to run and grind the ball in an efforet to keep the offense off the field. DaVonte Neal leads a secondary that was nearly as bad as the run defense.  The biggest issue will be creating more turnovers as Arizona finished 11th in the conference and 92nd in the nationwith a -4 turnover ratio. The good news for the Wildcats...the defense has to improve because it can't get any worse...can it?

Best Draft Prospects: Parker Zellers DT 6th Round 2018.

                                      DaVonte Neal CB 7th Round 2017.


Special Teams:

Josh Pollack might end up pulling double duty as the punter and the kicker for Arizona. If Pollack will be used in one area only then expect placekicking to be where we see Pollack on the field. The return game is way above average with Tyrell Johnson and receiver Nate Phillips serving as the primary punt returner.


Schedule:

Arizona will play BYU at a neutral site to open the season and we will see just where the new defensive alignment for Arizona stands. USC and Stanford come to town right in the middle of the schedule on the heels of UCLA and Utah road contests. If Arizona can make it out of this tough four game stretch at 2-2 then they should be in the thick of the Pac-12 race.

Draft and Overall Outlook:

The offense is proven at Arizona and Anu Solomon may be the most underrated quarterback at the FBS level. Keeping Soloman healthy and getting back to running the football effectively should be the focus in 2016. The draft outlook is not bright right now. Arizona is always a tough Pac-12 test because they can score on anyone, unfortunately stopping opposing teams is where they have failed in recent memory.

DJ Boyer