Top 25 college football team preview: No. 15 Arizona Wildcats
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Anu Solomon gained national attention after passing for 3,793 yards (and 28 touchdowns) as a redshirt freshman in 2014. But his coaches are focused on a different number: 85%, the rate of successful decisions, from deciphering coverages to the timing of handoffs, they expect their QB to make. “For me to tell you he was hitting 85—no, not last year,” co–offensive coordinator Rod Smith says. “We understood it because of the s---storm he was in as a freshman [starter].”
The 6'2", 205-pound Solomon watched more film in the offseason; in the spring he had only one or two practices at less than 85%, according to Smith. Solomon’s crisp reads can spring sophomore tailback Nick Wilson (1,375 yards in ’14) and junior receiver Cayleb Jones (73 catches for 1,019 yards), and his confident direction can smooth the assimilation of three new starters on the O-line.
A productive offense can also help offset a defense that allowed 28.2 points per game, even with 6'1", 246-pound All-America junior linebacker Scooby Wright (29 tackles for loss). Solomon envisions a return to the Fiesta Bowl, where Arizona finished last season with a 38-30 loss to Boise State. “The national championship game is in that stadium, right?” Solomon says. On that, he’s 100% accurate.
Opposing coach's take
The Wildcats are right on the edge of becoming a power. … Anu Solomon has skills. He’s an excellent passer, makes good decisions, gets the ball where it needs to be. For him, the refinement will be what he does to basically own that team. … Nick Wilson is very explosive. He can make cuts and get into creases. It’s a bit of a sixth sense. … Scooby Wright’s drive and desire to dominate—those are the things that stand out most about him. … You don’t see the 3-3-5 defense that much. They try to create some blocking problems. … If they’re going to win the Pac-12, they have to step it up on defense. It’s hard to beat the really good teams by saying, Hey, we’re going to outscore everybody.
Has DaVonte’ Neal found a home? First came his 2012 transfer from Notre Dame to Arizona. Now he’s shifted from receiver (27 catches for 214 yards in '14) to cornerback. The 5'10", 173-pound redshirt junior can add offensive pop—Neal had an 81-yard punt return for a TD in ’14—to a secondary that last fall had two freshman starters at the corners, Cam Denson and Jarvis McCall.
The way the schedule worked out this year, Arizona has to play all 12 of its games without a bye. “That’s the first time in 28 years I’ve ever had that,” coach Rich Rodriguez says. “We got the short straw.” Here’s another way the Wildcats don’t get a break: Their showdowns with conference title contenders Stanford (Oct. 3), USC (Nov. 7) and Arizona State (Nov. 21) are all on the road.
|Sept. 12||at Nevada|
|Sept. 19||Northern Arizona|
|Oct. 3||at Stanford|
|Oct. 10||Oregon State|
|Oct. 17||at Colorado|
|Oct. 24||Washington State|
|Oct. 31||at Washington|
|Nov. 7||at USC|
|Nov. 21||at Arizona State|