Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 41 Arizona Wildcats

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football countdown makes another stop in the Pac-12 with the No. 41 Arizona Wildcats.

The ‘Cats had a surprisingly good first season under head coach Rich Rodriguez in 2012, upsetting Oklahoma State early in the year and finishing with a bowl win over Nevada.

The team’s saving grace was the offense. The defense was among the worse in the conference, but the offense, led by senior quarterback Matt Scott, All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey, and receiver Austin Hill, netted 6,840 yards of total offense, sixth-best among FBS schools.

This season, the Wildcats must retool on offense, which means the defense must step up for the team to make it back to a bowl game.

Key Player — Ka’Deem Carey, RB

In 2012, Carey led the nation with 1,929 rushing yards and 148.4 yards per game. He surpassed 100 rushing yards in ten of the team’s 13 games, scored 23 rushing touchdowns, and had 36 receptions for 303 yards.

Carey had a rough offseason with an arrest on domestic violence charges (since dropped) and a confrontation with university police after being removed from a basketball game in January. The Wildcats need him to put the off-the-field incidents behind him and repeat last year’s success this fall.

A new quarterback and young, inexperienced receivers will ultimately be key players, but a month away from the season, they have yet to be identified. It will be up to Carey to keep the offense rolling while the newcomers on offense get up to speed.

Offense

The offense has many unknowns heading into 2013. At quarterback, either B.J. Denker or Jesse Scroggins will take over for Scott. Denker, a dual-threat senior, was Scott’s backup last season, and he played well in one relief appearance. Scroggins, a transfer who began his career at USC, began to emerge at the end of spring and could push Denker when fall camp opens.

The wide receiver situation is similarly unsettled. Hill is out with a knee injury, junior Tyler Slavin left the program over the summer, and Notre Dame transfer Davonte’ Neal is waiting to find out if he’ll be eligible to play this fall.

For now, junior Garic Wharton and sophomores David Richards and Johnny Jackson, who combined for 74 catches and 763 yards last season, are slated to start with fifth-year receiver Terrence Miller acting as a tight end, but others could challenge for playing time.

The offensive line was crucial to the team’s overall success last season. Center Kyle Quinn was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and his replacement is undetermined, but the line should be solid on the outside with tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele, each with 25 career starts.

Defense

Arizona finished last in the Pac-12 in passing defense and total defense in 2012 and was second-to-last — only ahead of Colorado — in run and scoring defenses. On the bright side, the team ranked 25th nationally in defended passes (70) and ninth in forced fumbles (99).

The defensive line needs to bring more pressure, but one of its biggest problems — a lack of size — isn’t one that can easily be fixed. Senior tackle Dan Pettinato is coming off a knee injury and junior Reggie Gilbert, who missed time last year with an ankle injury, needs to stay healthy and be more consistent.

The linebackers, led by sophomore Jake Fischer and senior Marquis Flowers, should be one of the better defensive units, but the secondary should also improve.

Last year’s safeties were sophomores backed up by freshman, and the extra year of experience should make a pretty good group of players even better. Juniors Tra’Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis excelled at safety/linebacker hybrid positions and will be the leaders in the secondary this year.

Schedule

The Wildcats don’t have to face two of the Pac-12 North teams (Oregon State and Stanford) that handed them tough losses in 2012, but they host UCLA and Oregon, which slaughtered them by a combined total of 115-10 last year.

The ‘Cats don’t play a tough game, or a conference game, until Sept/ 28, when they travel to Washington. They’ll have to play well on the road to match last year’s win total, because several of their “must-win” games (Colorado, California, Arizona State) are away.

Around the Web