Arizona should be explosive offensively and more sound on defense in 2014. There is no question coach Rich Rodriguez is making inroads in the talent department -- at no time in the last few years has Arizona been more talented. But plenty of questions remain as Arizona opens preseason camp this weekend ahead of Rodriguez's third season.
QB, RB must be replaced
Quarterback and running back are the key positions in need of answers. Given Rodriguez's history he might not know until late August. Rodriguez didn't divulge B.J. Denker as last year's starting quarterback until the first game (although it's likely he knew all along, wink, wink). First, he must find the players to fit his two most important spots. But if he finds the guys watch out.
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Who will take the snaps?
Rodriguez has the luxury of having at least five quarterbacks to evaluate in camp. Like last year, the third-year coach won't tip his hand on a starter until the first game of the season (Aug. 29) -- and not to "be coy" as he puts it but because he very likely won't know. The leading candidates include junior college transfers Jerrard Randall and Jesse Scroggins, two talented options who can add the threat of running to the offense. If those two falter redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, who gained much knowledge from the sideline last season, could step in if he's consistent. But how many freshmen do that?
No Ka'Deem? That could be a problem
To say Ka'Deem Carey was the team's workhorse the last couple of years would be an understatement. Arizona no longer has that guy in the backfield. Not even close. It does have some candidates, much like the quarterback spot. The exciting choice could be Jared Baker, a quick and steady runner who should be cleared to play after suffering an ACL injury in the regular-season finale last season. If not Baker then Terris Jones-Grigsby, a steady force who can get the job done. But all can, including UNLV transfer Adonis Smith. There is hope for the future if Nick Wilson and freshman Jonathan Haden pick up the offense quickly.
There should be holes for the guy who runs the ball
Arizona returns four starters on the offensive line -- center Steven Gurrola, guard Cayman Bundage and tackles Fabbians Ebbele and Mickey Baucus. Between them, they have more than 100 starts. And guard Lene Maiava will be in the mix plenty. It's an area of depth compared to years past. The veterans will lead the way, helping make the ball carrier's life a bit easier. It's probably Arizona's most stable position. And it needs to be with questions in the backfield.
Will Arizona be exciting to watch?
With the addition of DaVonte' Neal, Caleb Jones and a host of other newcomers there should be more points and excitement in Arizona Stadium. Arizona is going to find ways to get Neal, a Notre Dame transfer, the ball. He could solve a lot of problems coming out of the slot position. And although he's part of a bevy of talent at the wide receiver spot, Jones could stir the juices when it comes to catching passes. And then there's freshman tight end Trevor Wood, who at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds is a prototypical tight end , a position Arizona hasn't gone to much the last two years. This could be that year. Rodriguez's infusion of more talent is going to make Arizona an exciting team to watch if, um, it finds a QB and RB.
Will the defense ever rest?
Well, it has to be better. It improved from Rodriguez's first season, but that first year it was more of a case of keystone cops. Last season, behind freshman Scooby Wright, Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, Arizona showed signs of making the 3-3-5 defense look like it could work. Of course, it's not good to give up an average of 436 yards in total offense, what Arizona did in conference games a season ago. That was good enough for eighth and much better than the year before when it ranked last in giving up 520 yards a game. The improvements will be subtle here, but with more depth and experience Arizona should be more consistent. It'll come from tough Jared Tevis, be-everywhere Tra'Mayne Bondurant and pass rusher Reggie Gilbert.
Will Arizona make it to a third consecutive bowl game?
The odds are against the Wildcats, but Arizona's schedule isn't that tough with four winnable games to start the season and a seemingly favorable slate thereafter (five home conference games, including the regular-season finale vs. Arizona State). Rodriguez has led his teams to overachieve plenty the last two years so why would anyone expect anything different.