The Future is Very Bright in Arizona!Gene Clemons, FBGP Analyst ________________________
Ironically, on the same day that now former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke was fired, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year. It’s interesting to note that the school who decided Rodriguez was not a worthy hire, a coach who truly embodies that sentiment, celebrated Hoke’s success with Rich Rod’s players and offensive scheme in his first season; and then watched as the kingdom came tumbling down during the next three seasons.
But this is not about Hoke’s failure or Michigan’s idiotic decision to fire Rodriguez. It’s not even about Rodriguez’s success this season. Let this serve as notice to everybody in the Pac-12 and beyond; there’s a new big dog on the block.
When Arizona takes on Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, they will do so playing with house money. Nobody expects them to win the game. Many don’t think the game will be competitive…which is strange considering the Ducks have lost their previous two games against the Wildcats. For Arizona, this season is already a success. They could lose the Pac-12 Championship Game; they could even lose their bowl game and most likely still be ranked in the Top 25.
But next season, watch out!
If you think your head was spinning this year keeping up with the Cats, next year you may have to watch their game like you watch NASCAR: “There they go, there they went!” Remember the last time Rodriguez found the perfect quarterback for his offense? His West Virginia teams went 11-1 in 2005, 11-2 in 2006, and 10-2 in 2007 with Pat White at the helm. Two of those three seasons ended in BCS bowl games. Now he has Anu Solomon at Arizona, and “magically”, Rich Rod has another 10 win season after two impressive eight-win marks in his first two campaigns.
What makes this current season more impressive is that Arizona has put together such a phenomenal march to the Pac-12 title game relying mostly on kids. Seventeen of the 22 players on the Arizona offensive two deep are underclassmen. Thirteen of those 17 are freshmen and sophomores, including Pac-12 honorable mention players Solomon (rFR), sophomore wide receiver Caleb Jones, and true freshman running back Nick Wilson. The defense looks very similar with 14 of their 22 as underclassmen, 11 of those being freshmen or sophomores. Sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright was named the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year.
Thirteen starters are expected to return for the Wildcats next season. Most of them are in key positions necessary to make the Rich Rodriguez machine run smoothly. All but one (two if you count their tight end) offensive skill position starters will return. The entire linebacker corps and their nose guard, will continue to man the defensive core. The kicker, second team all-conference punter Drew Riggleman, and both punt and kick returners will be back to solidify the special teams units.
When you add in the beautiful campus and phenomenal football facilities, thanks to renovations made to Arizona Stadium and the construction of the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility in 2013, it’s not hard to imagine that recruiting high-caliber athletes to Tucson will be easier and easier.
Regardless of the finish to this season, put your shades on because the future looks bright for the Wildcats. Rodriguez can be accused of many things, but he will never be accused of not knowing how to use talent. Thankfully for the Wildcats, the Gators decided to go the safe route and not reach out to Rich Rod. Unfortunately that’s bad news for the Pac-12!