With the Arizona Wildcats sitting and waiting for their bowl placement, we take a minute to look back at the pleasant surprises of the season, and also remember how consistent the kicking game has been the last two years.
1. Who was the best surprise this year?
Gabe Encinas: Paul Magloire for sure. I was very excited about him after following him at Arizona Western last season. He came into the program this year, and broke the defensive back bench press record this summer, twice.
From there, he didn't get much playing time through the first five games or so, trying to fit in any role the coaches asked him to fill. That led him to the linebacker position vs. Oregon State. He finished the season second in tackles, with 59. He only had eight tackles prior to starting, so had he been in earlier, he definitely would have led the team in tackles. He has some killer instincts and flies to the ball. I'm not sure where he'll fit in next year, if he stays at linebacker, moves back to safety, or a combination of both, but he's going to be a big time player for the defense.
Alec Sills-Trausch: Special Teams. 100%. After living through the ‘Dark Ages' of Arizona Football Special Teams (2010-2013), knowing extra points were going in and field goals had a great likelihood is super nice. Plus, Riggleman and the returners didn't have any catastrophes or mishaps which used to be commonplace for punters and returners.
David Potts: I think the "best surprise" list is much shorter than the "worst surprise" list for Arizona this year, but I'm going to go with Gabe and say Paul Magloire. I don't think it's that surprising that Magloire contributed right away - he was a junior college product that everyone was excited about before the season - but I think it's very surprising that he was able to contribute so much at linebacker, where he's a little undersized. With all the injuries Arizona suffered at the linebacker position, it was great to see Magloire step up and fill that role.
Jack Davis: Casey Skowron. He was great for the special teams, knocking down 85% of his attempts and showed good improvement from last season. Definitely our best kicker since Nick Folk.
Jason Bartel: I'm going a different direction and saying Johnny Jackson. I don't even want to imagine how stagnant the Arizona offense would have been without some of the catches Jackson made. Considering he started fall camp on the defensive side of the ball, and only made his way back to the receiver group because Tyrell Johnson was injured, Jackson wins this. He was second on the team in catches (50), yards (612), and tied for the team lead in receiving TDs (5).
2. How nice was it to have Casey Skowron the last two years?
GE: Pretty nice. At the beginning of the year he definitely worried me, missing a few close-range field goals, and two PATs early on. But when you look at the full body of work through the last two years, he's been rock solid. Last year, he scored more than half of Arizona's points vs. UTSA, had a successful onside kick vs. California to lead the win, touchdown run and game-winning field vs. Washington, and this year he's been hitting 40+ field goals all season long, and it's nice to see that Rich Rodriguez has confidence in him to kick a 40+ yard field goal rather than go for it at times.
AST: I've got nothing to add to Gabe's breakdown. He nailed everything. I've known Casey since sophomore year when we lived in the same dorm. He's a great guy who is always out in the community giving a helping hand. Wish him only the best of luck in the future.
DP: I don't think I'm going to appreciate how good Skowron was for us until he's gone. There isn't anything amazing about Skowron's performance - it's not like he was booting 50+ yard field goals on a regular basis - but he was consistently good, and that's much better than the vast majority of college kickers. At some point - whether it's next year, two years from now, or five years from now - an Arizona kicker will miss a couple chip shot field goals in a row, and that's when I'll really appreciate how good Skowron was.
JD: He was consistent and has range out to 40+ yards. What more could one ask from him?
JB: I was also skeptical at the beginning of the year, but I think his ability to not let that get to him was the most impressive part. He came back and was one of the most valuable aspects of this team. One thing I think that gets overlooked is his kickoff ability too. Arizona's special teams coverage units are not great, and his ability to produce touchbacks was crucial as well.