It's fair to say that the Arizona Wildcats have flown a bit under the radar in each of Rich Rodriguez' first three seasons in Tucson.
In 2014, the Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South, just like 2013. But as we all know, Arizona did not finish fourth in the Pac-12 South, taking home the division championship, and ultimately ending up in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl.
Well, it's 2015 now, and there are some serious expectations out there for RichRod and co. ESPN's Mark Schlabach put out a "Way-Too-Early Top 25" after the NFL Draft, and the Wildcats are ranked 13th nationally.
Oregon (3rd), USC (5th) and UCLA (11th) are all still ahead of Arizona in this poll, with ASU checking in at 19th.
This is the reason Schlabach gives for putting Arizona so high:
Arizona was probably a year ahead of schedule after winning the Pac-12 South and reaching the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl with a freshman quarterback and tailback. There's plenty of firepower coming back on offense: Anu Solomon threw for 3,793 yards with 28 touchdowns, tailback Nick Wilson ran for 1,375 yards with 16 touchdowns and sophomore Cayleb Jones had 73 catches for 1,019 yards with nine scores.
This is all very true, which kind of debunks this whole "No NFL Draft picks hurts recruiting" angle. Arizona did not have anyone selected in the 2013 NFL Draft either, which of course was the year that both Solomon and Jones arrived on campus, as well as other notables like Nate Phillips, Samajie Grant, Scooby Wright III, DaVonte' Neal, Jacob Alsadek and more.
Let's use the NFL Draft as a barometer for program success for a minute. Do you mean to tell me that schools like Chattanooga, Florida Atlantic, Hobart, Mars Hill, Samford, Towson and William and Mary are in a better place than Arizona? Look at Boise State. They had one player selected in Jay Ajayi, and we at Arizona got a pretty good look firsthand this year of how good that program is. Notre Dame and Ole Miss also only had one player each.
The Pac-12 as a whole had 39 draft picks this year. Arizona still won the south.
Another indication of how recruiting can't predict the draft and vice versa. Tennessee had no players selected in the draft for the first time since 1963. That recruiting class brought in by Derek Dooley four years ago was ranked 15th in the nation. And none of them ended up being NFL talents.
Yeah, people might be bummed about no Arizona players getting selected for the second time in three years, and not having a player picked before the fourth round in the Rodriguez era. But this is a byproduct of what was left from the Stoops regime. This doesn't reflect on RichRod (yet), and expectations heading into 2015 of competing not just for a Pac-12 Championship, but more, are very real.