#48 Arizona Football 2016 Preview

Arizona Wildcats
Overall Rank: #48
#8 Pac-12
Following a ten win season in 2014, Arizona took a pretty big step backwards last year. The Wildcats finished the year 7-6 with a less than emphatic win over New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl. Coach Rich Rodriguez had to deal with a lot of injuries last season and he has tried some new tactics during the spring in an effort to revitalize his team. Time will tell if it works, but this can be a pretty good team if they manage to stay healthy.
2015 Record: 7-6, 3-6
2015 Bowl: New Mexico Bowl vs. New Mexico (W 45-37)
Coach: Rich Rodriguez (33-20 at Arizona, 153-104-2 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Calvin Magee, Rod Smith
Defensive Coordinator: Marcel Yates
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Nick Wilson, RB, 729 yards
Passing: Anu Solomon, QB, 2,667 yards
Receiving: Nate Phillips, WR, 564 yards
Tackles: Paul Magloire, LB, 72
Sacks: Tellas Jones, S, 3.0
Interceptions: Cam Denson, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: WR Samajie Grant, CB DaVonte Neal, LB DeAndre Miller, LB Jake Matthews
Key Losses: RB Jared Baker, QB Jared Randall, WR Cayleb Jones, WR Johnny Jackson, David Richards, LB William Parks, DL Reggie Gilbert, S Jamar Allah, K Casey Skowron
The Arizona offense is always going to be potent under Coach Rodriguez. Anu Solomon is a proven quarterback, although his numbers were not nearly as impressive last year as they were during his freshman campaign. Still, Solomon threw for 2,667 yards and 20 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He has missed time twice due to concussions and his health is a concern. Brandon Dawkins played well last year when Solomon was out and the sophomore will get an opportunity to unseat Solomon. So will freshman Khalil Tate. The receivers have a lot of experience, led by Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant. Those two combined to catch 75 passes for 865 yards and six touchdowns last season. However, neither are deep threats and that is an issue the Wildcats need to address. The ground game was very productive, but their success this year will depend on the health of Nick Wilson. Two years ago, Wilson rushed for 1,375 yards as a freshman. In an injury shortened 2015 campaign, he rushed for just 729 yards. Orlando Bradford appears ready to be a complimentary back for Bradford and with a strong offensive line, both backs should be in for productive seasons, if they can stay on the field.
Coach Rodriguez brought in an entirely new defensive staff in an effort to turn around one of the Pac-12 worst units. That could lead to a move away from the 3-3-5 scheme and, most likely, to new defensive coordinator Marcel Yates’ preferred 4-2-5. That should benefit the defensive line that was often overpowered in 2015. Sani Fuimaono would play tackle and Parker Zellers will get better matchups in the trenches as well, but the line as a whole is undersized. The situation at linebacker is even more precarious. Paul Magloire is the team’s top returning tackler and DeAndre Miller is a good rush linebacker if he can stay healthy. Getting Cody Ippolito back from injury would help too. Free safety Tellas Jones and cornerback DaVonte Neal lead an inexperienced secondary that will need to find some playmakers and depth.
The Bottom Line:
If injuries do not ravage the Wildcats again, Arizona could see a drastic increase in the win column. But that only works if the new defensive scheme and staff pays off. The team still needs defensive playmakers and even if everybody is healthy, they still might not have any. Arizona does not have a particularly easy conference schedule, drawing Washington, Stanford and Oregon State out of the North. Early trips to UCLA and Utah in October will be very telling for Arizona. The schedule eases up in November and this team can afford to get off to a slow start in Pac-12 play and still reach a bowl game with a good showing in November against the easier teams in the conference.
Projected Bowl: None
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 222.0 (23rd in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 272.9 (30, 5)
Total Offense: 494.9 (16, 3)
Scoring Offense: 37.4 (20, 4)
Rushing Defense: 198.5 (98, 9)
Pass Defense: 268.2 (114, 10)
Total Defense: 466.8 (114, 10)
Scoring Defense: 35.8 (107, 10)
Turnover Margin: -0.31 (92, 11)
Sacks: 2.08 (67, 10)
Sacks Allowed: 2.38 (82, 6)

Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#137 Khalil Tate