2012 rewind: Rodriguez revs up Wildcats

No. 6: Rich Rodriguez elevates Wildcats above expectations

Top 10 Arizona sports stories of the year, as selected by FOX Sports Arizona staff.

Who would have thunk it?

Not many, but Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez was able to coax and convince eight wins out of an undersized, undermanned, defense-deficient roster that had struggled to only four wins the previous year.

In hindsight, there could have been more given all the late-game meltdowns (Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon State), but what Rodriguez did in his first year with the Wildcats was short of remarkable, given the talent he inherited from former UA coach Mike Stoops. UA finished 8-5 overall, thanks to a near-miraculous New Mexico Bowl victory over Nevada. Included in the eight wins were home-field victories over three teams that had been nationally ranked at various times during the season: Oklahoma State, Washington and USC.

The defense was often non-existent – but it held up at times, too. Or at least was good enough to keep the team in games.

On offense, well, Rodriguez made the most of senior Matt Scott, the team’s dual threat who proved to be one of the better quarterbacks in the Pac-12 Conference. Whether it was by the air or the ground, Scott did what he could, and by the end of the season was helping UA score two touchdown in the final minute of a stunning 49-48 bowl victory over Nevada.

But the rising star is running back Ka’Deem Carey, the hometown sophomore who rushed for a nation-leading and school-record 1,929 yards while earning consensus All-America honors and becoming a Heisman contender in 2013.

“The job that he and his staff have done to get the team to buy in has been great,” said Greg Byrne, UA’s athletic director. “The job he’s doing from a recruiting standpoint, from the weight room, the classroom and the practices make me very pleased and excited about what the future holds for Arizona football.”

— Steve Rivera