Last night, I sat down to watch Wazzou and BYU expecting Mike Leach to blow my mind. I thought this would happen despite what actually went down in Provo. Naturally, I was pretty giddy -- like a little kid on Christmas morning, or a 20-year-old me in the hours leading up to my 21st, when I had my first ever beer.
Anyway, the point is that I was really pumped. My friend said, "Wow, I haven't seen Kevin this excited in, uh, ever." This is probably because I'm usually, cynical, dryly sarcastic and honestly pretty negative and emotionless.
But in putting together this post of the D-Swarm bloggers' answers to my questions about the upcoming season, I am equally giddy. I posed four questions and asked Kyle Kensing AKA Kyle Kensing, Ryan Clay AKA Smooty and Jaide Graham AKA Kazper to answer them. I, Kevin Zimmerman AKA K_Zim, also answered them, which is slightly schizo, but whatever.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comment section.
1. In the first year under Rich Rodriguez, what can be considered a good season versus a bad one, in your eyes?
Kyle Kensing: A good season is predicated less necessarily on a win-loss record, though 6-6 and above and an appearance in say, the New Mexico Bowl is a good season. I would judge the season more on how much heart the team plays with, especially early in games. Coming out flat was a huge problem last year. If the team matches last year's 4-8 record, but is competitive every week and playing with fire, that's a good season. A bad season is if UA finishes 3-9 or worse and lacks fire.
Ryan Clay: Rich Rodriguez's first year expectations should be similar to what Mike Stoops faced in his first year at the helm. Just be better than what we are used to. The difference is, this time around, Rich Rod is taking over a team that went to three bowl games in the past four years. Stoops took over after Mackovic's Reign of Terror where, frankly, anything was going to be an improvement.
Through that lens a good season for Rich Rod and Arizona and 2012 will be an improvement in Pac-12 play (2-7 last year), and bowl eligibility (or the threat thereof). A bad season is clear regression from 2011 on the field and in the win column.
Jaide Graham: Their schedule is fairly difficult, and the PAC12 is going to be far more competitive. In his previous two stops Rodriguez managed only 3 wins in his inaugural season at both Michigan and West Virginia. However, I have higher expectations and to be considered a good season I want to see at least a 6-6 record, with a win over ASU of course.
Kevin Zimmerman: Nothing will make me think the future is brighter than the Wildcats looking like they care. Because of some flat performances last year and a demeanor from Mr. Stoops that looked like he knew it was over, the locker room was lost last season. Rodriguez can bring an attitude of improvement if he pushes the right buttons, and though I don't expect the team to do better than 4-8, I think that it'll be clear that the team improves in the second half of the year. Both the easier schedule toward the end of the year and cohesion should make that easy to see.
2. What one thing (player, position, motivation) does this year's success ride upon? In other words, what's the X-factor for this year's team?
Kyle Kensing: Jeff Casteel is the X-Factor. When Greg Byrne tweeted the photo of Rich Rodriguez, I mostly held out judgment until his staff came together, and Casteel was the crown jewel hire. The stack defense is so nuanced and unusual, you need someone who can really handle it. Greg Robinson couldn't at Michigan. The ‘Cats are super-thin defensively, but this could be the system to compensate.
Ryan Clay: The defense's ability to create sudden change with sacks and turnovers. It is no secret that Arizona's 2012 defense is going to give up yards by the acre. Unexpected success in 2012 will likely come from the defense's ability to create some havoc with sacks and turnovers. The new 3-3-5 stack defense is predicated on speed, confusion, and allowing smaller athletes to thrive in a system designed to take advantage of deficiencies in size and strength. The successful implementation of the 3-3-5, and the defense's ability to create sudden change will be the X-Factor for the 2012 season.
Jaide Graham: The X factor this year has got to be Matt Scott. We know Rich Rod has a strong offense, but for us to be truly explosive we need Scott to get a handle on Rich's offense and run it to the best of his ability.
Kevin Zimmerman: My definition of X-factor is something that can swing the season. It's hard to argue that it's the defense, and to get more specific, I think the defensive line play will be the key. Yes, it's a 3-3-5, but if Sione Tuihalamaka can have a breakout year and get some competent sidekicks to hold down the middle, then evermore tricky and powerful will the play of the linebackers and hybrids become.
3. Who's the most important player to this team?
Kyle Kensing: I look at two guys who will set the tone: Marquis Flowers and Jake Fischer. The offense will score points, so winning is contingent on the defense coming together. Those two are leaders and among the more talented players on D, so they set the tone. Last season, I felt like during every defensive breakdown ESPN was zooming in on Mike Stoops screaming, "PAUL!" in exasperation at Paul Vassallo. The linebackers can really set the tone.
Ryan Clay: The obvious answer is Matt Scott. Redshirt senior quarterback, with the opportunity to run an offense that was seemingly designed for him. After Scott on the depth chart is JC-transfer B.J. Denker, and some combination of Alex Cappellini, Josh Kern, and Javelle Allen.
Under the radar: Tra'Mayne Bondurant, safety. Bondurant came on strong in the second half of 2011 and the switch to the 3-3-5 may allow his play-making skills to shine at one of the safety positions.
Jaide Graham: Carey is the most important player to our team to myself. Scott maybe the X factor, but any young QB needs a strong running game behind him. If Carey can use his experience to take some pressure off of Scott then the offense itself will move smoothly.
Kevin Zimmerman: I'm going to go with Carey as well. The stuff we've heard about Denker, the O-line and the running backs make me think the offense will be good. But if teams know the team is going to be running the ball a lot and can't do anything to stop Carey, they'll be in trouble. And I'm saying this expecting the defense to be awful. Yeah, I'm saying that the only hope for winning will be scoring 40-plus points, but that sounds fun, right?
4. What game do you have circled on the calendar and why?
Kyle Kensing: The Oklahoma State game is huge. Getting smacked around last year in Stillwater seemed to have a visible impact on Stoops and the staff. Even without Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, no one who isn't wearing a jersey or UA coaches polo on game day should expect a win, but coming out with passion early and maybe catching the Cowboys off-guard to give them a great game sets its own tone in a different fashion.
Ryan Clay: September 29 - Oregon State. This could be the turning point of the season. Both programs are coming off of down seasons and looking to get back in the bowl picture. An Arizona win here likely puts them at 3-2, and only needing three wins in the last seven games to reach 6-6, and bowl eligibility.
Jaide Graham: I have the Washington game circled on my calendar. UW is a much better team this year, but we do get to play them at home. I put us down for a 6-6 season, but if we have a chance to get to 7-5 I think that will be the game to make it happen.
Kevin Zimmerman: ASU on Nov. 23. Again, I'm being pessimistic and expecting the record of Arizona to be pretty bad. Watching the Sun Devils demolish NAU last night struck me as a sign they have a lot more talent than Arizona does -- last year, Dennis Erickson just didn't harness his players enough to execute and not do dumbVONTAZEthings. So the Wildcats will be underdogs and ASU fans will be in our grills about our relative lack of success. So a Duel in the Desert win would be a nice way to go into next season.