Wildcats not bothered by being overlooked again
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona returns its starting quarterback for the first time in four years. Dynamic running back Nick Wilson is back, so is all-everything linebacker Scooby Wright and the receiving corps should be one of the nation's best.
Yet when the Pac-12 preseason poll came out, the Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the South Division.
Fine by them.
The Wildcats were picked in the same spot a year ago and ended up winning the division, so being overlooked again is no big deal.
"There was some expert poll that gave us a 2 percent chance," Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez said. "It's like that (line in the movie) `Dumb & Dumber,' `What's the chance of a guy like me getting a girl like you ... one in a million. So you're telling me there's a chance?' Two percent? Better than one in a million, right?"
It should be hard to underestimate Rodriguez-led Arizona teams at this point.
Arizona won 26 games its first three seasons under Rodriguez, most in a three-year period in school history. The Wildcats also have been to three straight bowl games, another first, and played in last season's Fiesta Bowl, their first appearance in a major bowl since 1994.
Arizona should again be good on offense this season.
The Wildcats return Anu Solomon at quarterback and Wilson is back after rushing for over 1,300 yards. Cayleb Jones had over 1,000 yards receiving last season and heads up a group that rivals the talent of any in the nation.
The offensive line has some holes, but Rodriguez's snap-it-fast offense always seems to churn out big numbers
The defense is what has held Arizona back in recent years and there will be some question marks, particularly in the secondary. Even so, the Wildcats have Wright, who will do his Scooby thing all over the field for at least one more season in the desert.
They also have that what-about-us chip on their shoulder, one that has served them well in the past.
"If it motivates your guys to run an extra sprint on their own or something, maybe it will be good," Rodriguez said.
A few other things to watch for this season:
SOLOMON RETURNS: Solomon won a tight race for the starter's spot after a four-way battle in training camp and proved he was the right guy by throwing for a school freshman-record 425 yards in his first game. Solomon threw for 3,493 yards and 28 touchdowns with nine interceptions last season and is Arizona's first returning starter at quarterback since Nick Foles in 2011.
SCOOBY DOES: Wright seemed to get more attention for his name than his game in high school, but was one of the nation's best defensive players last season. Nicknamed "Two-star Scooby" because of his rating out of high school, the high-motor linebacker swept the Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award and the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defender. Now a junior, he's being touted as a potential Heisman Trophy favorite.
Quarterback Anu Solomon is back for his sophomore season after he threw for 3,493 yards and 28 touchdowns last season.
THE SCHEDULE: For the Wildcats to get back to the Pac-12 Championship game, they'll have to play through one of the nation's most difficult schedules. Thanks to a scheduling quirk, Arizona will open the season with 12 straight games, not getting a bye until the week before the conference title game. Avoiding injuries and staying mentally sharp will be a key for the Wildcats to get through the gauntlet.
QUESTION MARKS: Arizona already had a few concerns on the offensive line after returning just two starters. Making matters even murkier, Carter Wood, who was projected to be the starter at center, was lost for the season during training camp due to a chronic foot injury. Defensively, the Wildcats will have to replace most of a secondary that has one returning starter, senior safety Will Parks.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Special teams have been a sore spot in Tucson for a few years, but that shouldn't be the case this season. Casey Skowron set a school record for points by a kicker and made a game-winner against Washington after receiving online death threats for missing a potential game-winner against USC. Drew Riggleman averaged 46.1 yards per punt last season.