A few days ago, I released my Pac-12 preseason poll, going through each team's schedule, handing out wins/losses to each team. Oddsmakers put the over/under on Arizona wins at 7/5, which was a bit odd considering the fact that Rich Rodriguez returns 14 starters from his 10-win team. Arizona has a pretty favorable schedule this season, as favorable as a Pac-12 South schedule gets.
So here, we'll have a mini breakdown on each team the Wildcats will face throughout the season.
They should have no problems with one of the easiest non-conference schedules in the nation featuring UTSA, Nevada, and NAU. The ideal situation of course would be pushing a lead large enough to be able to rest the starters throughout the fourth quarter. With 12 straight games, Arizona cannot afford to suffer injuries.
This leads to UCLA, the Pac-12 conference opener for both teams. The Bruins will head to Tucson with a true freshman quarterback in Josh Rosen. Rosen was arguably the best quarterback in the nation in the 2015 recruiting class, despite finishing last in the Elite 11 quarterback competition last season. It's going to be hard to believe that Josh Rosen is harder to gameplan for and is more advanced than Brett Hundley after his first three games of his career. Arizona contained Hundley for most of the game last season, it was just the offense that struggled. This is by far the biggest test to see how Arizona will maintain the success of last season, and a true indication as to how good UCLA really is, who is returning 17 starters. With a win here, Arizona could be on cruise control, with a few turns, until November.
Stanford is a big question mark. Last year, they had a bit of a down year, finishing 8-5 on the season. They return Kevin Hogan for his final year, but oddly enough, it seems as if Hogan regresses every year. They also lost their star play maker Ty Montgomery to the NFL and first round pick Andrus Peat at offensive tackle, but return much of their offense aside from that. Where the big concern is on the defensive side. They only allowed opponents to score more than 20 points twice last season, but this year they lose seven of their ten leading tacklers. Stanford also only returns 11 of their starting 22, fewest in the Pac-12. This could be a close game for Arizona, but with good health, I imagine Arizona comes out on top.
Oregon State loses their heart and soul of the offense in Sean Mannion and it's hard to imagine them being a huge threat, even with Gary Andersen at them helm in his first year for the black and orange. Oregon State is always good for an upset, but typically in Corvallis. Arizona luckily gets them at home this year, which should help drastically. The offense might be fine, despite losing Mannion, returning 10 of their 11 starters, but their defense will have just two returning starters for 2015.
A trip to Seattle could be dangerous, especially late in October, on Halloween night. The Huskies are going to be without their starting quarterback Cyler Miles, who retired due to medical issues. Washington should have a stable quarterback at this point in the season, but it's hard to imagine them being any better than they were last year at 8-6. Washington will be returning six starters on offense and four on defense, with three of their defensive starters from last year being first round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft. But this very well could be another trap game, especially if Arizona looks ahead to the next week.
Next, a trip to USC, who has been pretty underachieving the last few years considering the high expectations. We'll have a firm understanding as to how good USC really is at this point in the season, but for now, I expect them to win the Pac-12. Cody Kessler is probably one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the nation and has plenty of weapons on the field to choose from. USC always has size, so we'll see how Arizona can match up this year, but this is where I see Arizona suffering their first loss, in Week 10.
Arizona then gets Utah at home, which hasn't really given Arizona too much trouble since they've joined the Pac-12. They have quite a few returners on both sides of the ball for 2015. They return Devontae Booker, who I think will be the best running back in the country (sorry, Nick Wilson). They always seem to have a pretty stout defense, but this, again, is a game that Arizona should win, but you never know what can happen.
Then Arizona is off to Tempe. We all know what happened the last time the Wildcats were in Tempe. This is a complete toss up game every year, and it'll be all up to the health of both teams at this point in the season. Mike Bercovici will lead the ASU offense. The Sun Devils lost Jaelen Strong, but will still have the do-it-all back in DJ Foster. Their defense is always disciplined, and Todd Graham probably has some JUCOs that are ready to go.
All in all, if Arizona gets by UCLA, there's a pretty good chance the Wildcats reach 9-0. That's a big if, but it all depends on how experienced Josh Rosen is at that point and how ready Arizona is after playing three very poor opponents. The schedule is very manageable for Arizona and quite favorable. Realistically, they could drop a game here or there, but through nine weeks, Arizona should be at least 7-2. It's the tail end of the season that might burden the Cats, especially considering the lack of bye weeks, heading through the stretch of USC, Utah and ASU to end the season. I see Arizona finishing the season at 10-2, and second in the Pac-12 South to USC at 11-1.