Pac-12 Networks preview: Arizona
This post is one in a series of 12 as we visit each Pac-12 school on the Pac-12 Networks Football Training Camp tour. Check Pac-12.com in advance of each school's Football Training Camp stop for a quick season preview ahead of that night's show.
In just 17 days the Arizona Wildcats will welcome the UNLV Rebels down to the desert. The Wildcats will look to improve on back-to-back 8-5 seasons and back-to-back bowl victories to begin the Rich Rod era. If the 'Cats want to win a bowl game in three consecutive seasons for the first time in school history they’ll have to find their third new starting quarterback in as many years to run their up-tempo offensive attack. Some are projecting Arizona to be a “sleeper” team in the Pac-12 South this season, but don’t sleep on the #BearDowns as they attempt to dance their way to their first Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl in school history.
- The Wildcats bring back six starters from last year’s offense including four out of five starters on one of the Pac-12’s best offensive lines. Their offensive line paved the way for Arizona to rush for 265 yards per game (2nd in the Pac-12) and allowed the second fewest sacks in the conference (17) in 2013. That’s the good news. The not so good news is that they lost their starting quarterback for the second consecutive season (Matt Scott in 2012 and B.J. Denker in 2013) and the greatest running back in school history – 2013 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year – Ka’Deem Carey. Denker was an efficient leader of the offense who ran for 13 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards, while throwing for 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns. All Carey did was lead the nation in rushing in 2012, rush for 1,885 yards in 2013 (3rd in nation), and become Arizona’s all-time leading rusher (4,232 yards) while breaking 26 school records. Arizona returns just 23% of its offensive production from last season. That’s easily the lowest returning production percentage in the Pac-12.
- Fortunately for the 'Cats they’ll have a shot to make up for that missing 77% of production with one of the deepest receiving corps in the country. Arizona brings back its top two pass catchers in Nate Phillips (51 receptions, 696 yards, seven touchdowns) and Samajie Grant (47 receptions, 373 yards, and one touchdown). Along with Phillips and Grant, Arizona will bring back David Richards, Trey Griffey, and Johnny Jackson. What may prove to be the best position group in the Pac-12 also includes newcomers Cayleb Jones and DaVonte' Neal, who transferred to Tucson from Texas and Notre Dame, respectively. Finally, don’t call it a comeback, Austin Hill has been here for years. After missing all of 2013 with a torn ACL, Hill returns after posting the second-highest receiving yardage total in the Pac-12 in 2012 with 1,364 yards and a single-season school record-tying 11 touchdown receptions. With all of this talent and depth on the outside, the 'Cats will definitely introduce their opponents to #TheNewNormal in Tucson.
- Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel will employ Arizona’s 3-3-5 defense with five starters coming back in 2014. The 'Cats lost defensive leader and top tackler, linebacker Jake Fischer, but they’ll have three of their top five tacklers from a 2013 defense that ranked 6th in the Pac-12 in points allowed. Having three starters in their secondary (cornerback Johnathan McKnight, safety Jared Tevis, and free safety Jourdon Grandon), as well as returning linebacker Scooby Wright and veteran defensive end Reggie Gilbert, will be a big reason why the Wildcats will continue their #HardEdge defense in 2014.
- Normally I would write more stats or jokes to lead into a neat video clip, but there are no words to describe the genius that is Rich Rodriguez and Matt “Matty D” Dudek in this classic “Arizona Speed” movie trailer. Seriously, how great are all of these Arizona videos?
"Bear Down" is the official motto of U of A. The phrase was coined in 1926 by a former student athlete who was the student body Ppesident, the starting quarterback on the football team and a catcher on the baseball team. Who coined the legendary “Bear Down” motto?
Tweet me the answer @RyanMcGrady and I’ll say something along the lines of, “That’s right! You’re so money and you don’t even know it. Here we go #BearDowns!”
(Credit: Arizona Sports Information Department. Big thanks to Molly O’ Mara, Blair Willis, and Sean Collins who #BearDown 24/7/365.)
TOMORROW | 1:00pm PTLive