TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona won eight games and a bowl in each of its past two seasons, a nice foundation for a program that had stumbled into mediocrity before coach Rich Rodriguez arrived in the desert.
The Wildcats’ expectation this season is to build upon it.
They have the confidence that comes with consecutive winning seasons. The roster is filled with players Rodriguez recruited, and there’s some much-needed depth on defense.
There are still plenty of questions – particularly who will start at quarterback – some young players at key positions, and a brutal schedule in one of the nation’s toughest conferences. But taking a step back is not an option in Tucson.
”Our expectations are higher and they’ll probably get higher every year,” Rodriguez said during Arizona’s media day Sunday.
Arizona was a bit of a surprise in Rodriguez’s first season, not only finishing with a winning record despite depth issues, but pulling out a remarkable last-second win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.
The Wildcats had a solid 2013 season, matching their record from the year before, then blowing out Boston College in the Advocare V100 Bowl.
Now Arizona has one of the best receiving groups in the nation and talent and experience on the offensive line.
The Wildcats again should be able to pile up yards and points in bunches and may finally be able to stop teams instead of having to outscore them.
A lot will depend on what happens at quarterback.
Arizona had a prolonged battle for the starting spot heading into last season, no one outside the program knowing who the starter would be until B.J. Denker trotted out for the first game.
Rodriguez acknowledges he knew Denker would be the starter long before the opener, but this year he’s not playing any motivational games.
The Wildcats have four legitimate contenders to play under center this season: redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, Texas transfer Connor Brewer and former LSU quarterback Jerrard Randall.
The coaching staff has had a hard time juggling reps among the four QBs, and while Solomon appears to be the front-runner, it’s a close race, with Rodriguez saying all four could play this season in some capacity.
”After one more week, we’ll try to pare it down,” Rodriguez said. ”If we’ll not go into the first game.”
Whoever’s under center, one big goal this season will be to win the Territorial Cup.
Todd Graham, who became Arizona State’s coach the same year Rodriguez took over in Tucson, is already two up on his former West Virginia colleague, winning the first two games between desert rivals.
”Everybody says, `Beat ASU, beat ASU,’ like I need to be reminded of that,” Rodriguez said. ”I think about it every day and our players do, too.”