We’ve seen the predictions for the Arizona Wildcats to finish fourth or fifth in the Pac-12 South this year, but what exactly does that mean?
What record do we expect Arizona to finish the season with? We dive into that in our second roundtable of the week:
Gabe Encinas: I think 7-5 is pretty fair. I would go 3-0 through non-conference play, with a win against either Utah or Washington State. Then picking up wins against Colorado, Oregon State and Arizona State.
I don’t totally buy into the Washington hype and I think playing the Huskies earlier in the year helps, but that will be a very tough game to win. We know how the past four games vs. UCLA have gone and I don’t think that trend ends. Arizona has played USC extremely tough these past four years and there’s potential for an upset win, not necessarily the top 10 win that Rich Rodriguez has captured each of his four seasons in Tucson, but still a quality win. And then all I have to say about Stanford is Christian McCaffrey, the guy who should have won the Heisman last season.
Drake Horner: 8-4. The offense should be one of the best in the Pac-12. Defense is a very big question mark, but Arizona has never really had a good defense since RichRod took over. In 2014, Arizona was 105th in total defense and went 10-2. All the defense needs to be is average. The schedule is favorable as there are only four road games. USC, Washington, and Stanford are at home, and Rich is always good for one upset. I think Arizona wins a game it shouldn’t and loses a game it shouldn’t. If the defense is better than expected, all bets are off.
Steve Apter: I’d be pleasantly surprised if they finished above .500 and I predict they will be 6-6 this season. Unlike last season where they coasted to three early victories, they start the year against a really tough opponent in BYU. The Cougars may be welcoming a first year coach in Kalani Sitake, but he is inheriting a senior-laden roster including signal-caller Taysom Hill and a stout defense led by safety Kai Nacua. Earlier in the off-season, Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne revealed that as of late May, BYU had sold more tickets to the season opener (being played in Glendale) than Arizona...ouch. BYU is currently a 2.5 point favorite and even with a few more late ticket purchases by Arizona fans and alumni, this is going to be a tough initial test for the Cats.
Arizona should win their next two games easily against Grambling State and Hawaii but where can they guarantee wins after that? Both Washington schools played them pretty tough last season. Wins against USC, Stanford or UCLA will be unlikely, and while they should beat ASU and Colorado, trips to Salt Lake City and Corvallis will be winnable but still no cakewalk. The first four games are crucial. Let's say they beat Washington and lose to BYU, they'll feel like they're playing with house money heading into a difficult four game stretch. If they can somehow pull out two wins amongst two on the road against UCLA and Utah, and two at home against Stanford and USC, then at 5-3 they would then feel in contention for the Pac-12 South by winning their final four against WSU, Colorado, OSU and ASU to finish 9-3 with only two losses in conference. However, I think a more likely scenario is going 3-5 through the first eight games and 3-1 in the final four to finish with a .500 record and a trip to the whatever bowl.
Brandon Combs: I would say either 7-5 or 8-4. Arizona should go 3-0 in non-con play with conference wins against Colorado, ASU, Oregon State, and Utah. I believe the 8th win will come against either Washington, USC, or Washington State. Arizona has played USC tough the past few years, with an almost win last year. Washington has a ton of hype surrounding it, but we’ll have to see how that plays out when the Huskies come to Tucson. Wazzu does have a deadly passing attack, but if the defense can hold, I believe Arizona’s offense will be too much. Regardless, Arizona is bowl bound this upcoming season.
David Potts: 6-6. Even if this is a bit of a transition year for Arizona, I think the team should be able to scrape out a bowl appearance. That said, there isn’t much room for error, and a win against BYU would go a long, long way to push the Wildcats to bowl eligibility.
Ronnie Stoffle: This is tricky because the defense is such a wild card. For simplicity sake, let's assume their defense is statistically similar to last season's. We know the offense can and will score plenty of points. I think it's fair to assume eight wins (7-5 and a bowl win), is probable. We know Tucson is a dangerous place for favored opponents and sometimes, even heavily favored opponents. I trust that they can beat Washington, SC or Stanford at home.
However, let's assume that the defense is statistically better with getting off the field on third down and take-aways. This should be worth at least an extra win. It feels like nine wins (8-4 and a bowl win) is the ceiling given the tough start to Pac-12 play.
Now, let's assume a scenario where the defense is statistically worse than 2015 and the injury bug strikes again. The quarterback depth is better suited to handle Anu's absence but that darn start to conference play is so brutal. If this scenario occurs, I can absolutely see a 5-7 season.