The football season is getting closer, and while our Bruins are getting ready for the 2015 season, so is the rest of the Pac-12. So we're taking a quick look around the conference to see how the other 11 teams are stacking up. We posed the same 4 questions to each of our Pac-12 conference mates so we can get to know their team and expectations a bit better, and added a 5th question geared for each school individually. We add some notes on the teams key losses and returns after the Q&A, as well.
Our Pac-12 preseason previews will start off with the defending Pac-12 South Champs, the Arizona Wildcats. Our friend Jason Bartel, the Managing Editor of Arizona's outstanding SBN site Arizona Desert Swarm was kind enough to share his time and insights with us at BN. Check out his thoughts in the Q&A below, and for the best inside look at U of A anywhere, head on over to Arizona Desert Swarm and join in the conversation there.
BN: Who are the players on offense we don't know about, but should?
Jason: This one's tough, because all of the important pieces from last year's team are back for the most part. Tyrell Johnson, who we saw mostly on kick return last year, will likely see more time in the offense this year either as a slot receiver, or as some sort of running back. He's the fastest guy on the team, and could be quite the weapon when he gets out in the open field. It's just a matter of putting him in a position to succeed.
BN: Who are the players on defense we don't know about, but should?
Jason: First one that comes to mind is corner Cam Denson. As a true freshman last year, he didn't get a ton of action on the field, and when he did, he was hit and miss. This year, I think he'll be the best corner on the team, and have a very successful season. Another guy in the secondary is safety Jamar Allah. He's going to be a senior, but was buried on the depth chart a bit the last two seasons. He'll see a ton of playing time with the majority of last year's secondary graduating, and Allah had a very good spring.
BN: What game has the biggest circle on the calendar and why?
Jason: Arizona State for obvious reasons. Last year, it became the de facto Pac-12 South Championship Game, just adding more fuel to the rivalry fire. That game comes at the end of a 12 game in 12 week stretch Arizona has this year, so it'll be interesting to see what kind of Arizona team shows up in Tempe this year. But without a doubt, that's the game with the biggest circle around it heading into the season.
BN: What is your prediction for your season record?
Jason: I have us at 9-3, although one of our writers Gabe has Arizona at 10-2. Just based off a 10-win season last year, and key skill players on offense returning all over the place, plus Scooby Wright is still here, Arizona has to be one of the favorites to win the division. The Cats always have a fluke loss though, and I think that comes on Halloween at Washington, which could cost them the division.
BN: The Wildcats are coming off a Pac-12 South title and a beat a playoff bound Oregon team during the regular season. Can the Cats maintain that level in 2015 and how close are you to taking that next step toward winning the conference title?
Jason: In all reality, last year seemed to have come a year or two earlier than everyone expected. Anu Solomon, Nick Wilson, Cayleb Jones, Trey Griffey, Samajie Grant, and a healthy Nate Phillips all return, plus the offensive line adds in Cal transfer Freddie Tagaloa, who had to sit out last year and is an absolute monster. Even though this team is set up for success, 2016 may be the season that Arizona breaks through and actually wins a Pac-12 Championship. But there's no doubt that Rich Rodriguez has put the program in the best place it has ever been, and I think that the progress will only continue to come as long as RichRod is still living and coaching in Tucson.
Maintaining the level of success will come down to staying healthy, and avoiding down weeks, which seemed to happen several times last year. The Pac-12 South just feels too wide open to actually have any idea what's going to happen with the top five teams in the division. It's kind of crazy how loaded this division is.
Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez, 4th year
2014 season: 10-4, 7-2 (conf), Pac-12 South champs
2014 Bowl: Lost to Boise State 38-30 in Fiesta Bowl
Key returnees: LB Scooby Wright III (Jr), QB Anu Solomon (rSo), WR Cayleb Jones (rJr), DB Will Parks (Jr) RB
Key losses: Two tackles and the center from the offensive line. WR Austin Hill, DB Jared Tevis
For a position by position look at the Wildcats depth chart, Arizona Desert Swarm has it all right here.
AP Preseaon Rank: 22
Matchup with UCLA: @ Arizona, Sat Sept 26, time TBA