The Arizona Wildcats open the season at home against the UNLV Rebels. This is the third meeting between the two schools and the Wildcats have held a commanding 2-0 advantage since 2001. The Rebels posted a winning record last season at 7-6, the first time the program has done so since 2000. Arizona finished 8-5 last season for the second consecutive season under Head Coach Rich Rodriguez with all of the Wildcats’ losses coming against Pac-12 opponents with above .500 records.
Offensively, Arizona will see some new faces this season with only six returning starters and losses at two key positions, with quarterback B.J. Denker leaving along All-American running back Ka’Deem Carey, moving on to the NFL. Quarterback Aun Soloman will start for the Wildcats and becomes the first freshman ever to start for Arizona under center. Soloman beat out USC Trojans transfer Jesse Scroggins, Texas Longhorns transfer Connor Brewer and junior Jerrard Randall for the job.
The Wildcats’ defense has made significant progress since Rodriguez joined the program in 2012, going from one of the worst in college football to 39th in points against, averaging 24.2 points per game. Like the offense, there are six starters returning for the Wildcats this season. Don’t expect this to be a year of further progression for Arizona’s defense after losing Cornerback Shaquille Richardson, Defensive End Sione Tuihalamaka and linebackers Marquis Flowers and Jake Fischer, who all played major roles last season.
As for the UNLV Rebels, Head Coach Bobby Hauck named Junior college signee Blake Decker starting quarterback this season. Decker is ready to be a force for the rebels after leading the NJCAA last season with 4,241 yards passing, 47 touchdown and 11 interceptions. The Rebels have eight returning starters on offense including NFL prospect wide receiver Devante Davis, who finished the 2013 season with 87 receptions, 1290 yards and 14 touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, UNLV’s defense has six returning starters and will rely on the play of the secondary of upperclassmen corrnerback Kenneth Penny and safeties Peni Vea and Frank Crawford. The returning secondary for the Rebels is a good sign after leading the Mountain West conference in pass defense, allowing 217.7 yards per game last season.
UNLV will travel to take on Arizona at 10:30 p.m. EDT on Friday, Aug. 29. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.
PREDICTION: Arizona 30, UNLV 21