The Arizona Wildcats kick off their season against Northern Arizona on Sept. 2, but fans can catch a glimpse of the Wildcats next week at Pac-12 Media Days.
Rich Rodriguez will take the stage Wednesday, July 26, as he tries to turn things around following a 3-win season in 2016. He’ll be joined in Hollywood by OL Jacob Alsadek and LB DeAndre’ Miller.
Here are Arizona’s biggest story lines and questions heading into Pac-12 Media Days:
Nick Wilson’s return to health
Few outside of Tucson remember the kind of impact Nick Wilson had as a freshman in 2014. That season, he finished 25th in country in rushing with 1,375 yards, while also scoring 16 rushing TDs. Fewer still might remember that he finished with more yards than many other highly-regarded running backs like Oregon’s Royce Freeman and recent NFL draftees Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook. Injuries derailed his sophomore and junior seasons. If he can get back to full health, he has the talent to be the lead dog in the Wildcats backfield, even if he won’t reach the heights of his magical freshman season.
Can Brandon Dawkins develop into more of a passer?
Brandon Dawkins 944 rushing yards ranked him 8th in the conference last year, just one yard shy of Oregon’s Freeman. So he’s got that. But throwing the ball was a different story. If Dawkins is going to try to hold on to the starting position, he’ll have to improve on his 53.8 completion percentage and 7.4 yards per attempt.
How long is Rich Rodriguez’s leash?
It feels like it’s been a long time since Arizona football was relevant, but in truth, the Wildcats won the South division and appeared in the Fiesta Bowl only three seasons ago. After barely squeaking into a bowl in 2015, and completely missing out following a 3-win season in 2016, the pressure is certainly on Rodriguez to deliver a winning season. With a young team devoid of true game-changing talent, it’s likely not to happen again this year, which will further intensify the heat on Rodriguez. You have to start wonder how long he’ll have the support of the adminstration and boosters if he continues to deliver a subpar product on the field.
What can coordinator Marcel Yates do to turn around the defense?
The good news is Arizona returns nine starters on defense in 2017. The bad news is that it’s a unit that ranked 119th (out of 128) in scoring defense last season. Especially bad was the secondary, which ranked 107th in passing yards allowed per game. Defensive coordinator Marcel Yates is also the DBs coach, so he’ll need to challenge his unit to help get things going in the right direction. It’s a young group, but one that loves to compete. Yates’ challenge is to get them to do it more consistently.
Can a reliable No. 2 receiver emerge behind Shun Brown?
The Wildcats lost three out of their top four wide receivers from last season with Nate Phillips, Trey Griffey and Samajie Grant all graduating. That leaves 5-foot-8 dynamo Shun Brown as their only reliable target, and even he only has 33 career catches for 545 yards. Behind him a very inexperienced group of seniors Cam Denson, Tyrell Johnson and Shawn Poindexter, junior Tony Ellison and redshirt sophomore Cedric Peterson have a combined 50 catches for 609 yards. One or more of this group will have to step up this season.