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Roundtable: Was 2017 a successful year for Arizona football?

Is a 7-5 record satisfactory?

Washington State v Arizona Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

After falling to the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Territorial Cup this past Saturday, the Arizona Wildcats closed the regular season with a 7-5 record.

On one hand, they far exceeded their preseason expectations which pegged them to finish last in the Pac-12 South.

On the other hand, Arizona lost several winnable games. So, is going 7-5 an overall successful season or a disappointing season? Do we have to wait for the result of the bowl game before making a final say?

Our staff discussed:

Ryan Kelapire: I do think it’s a successful season from the basic standpoint that Arizona went 7-5 and reached a bowl game, despite being picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South. The Wildcats overachieved and gave their fanbase several memorable moments (thanks mostly to Khalil Tate).

But ... 7-5 also feels like a letdown since Arizona was 7-3 heading into its final two games, plus it lost to archrival ASU which is a huge no-no.

But I tend to lean toward this being a successful season because a foundation for the future has been established. Tate will be the quarterback, J.J. Taylor will be the featured running back and the defense has several promising young players including true freshmen Colin Schooler, Tony Fields II, Kylan Wilborn, and Scottie Young Jr.

So while Arizona finished 7-5 and it could have easily been 8-4 or 9-3, it is fair to say that the program appears to be heading the right direction. That is something that couldn’t be said before the year started.

Christopher Boan: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for fans of the Cardinal and Blue this fall, capped off with ongoing misery in Tempe. That said, given the stated benchmark of six wins by new AD David Heeke and President Robert C. Robbins, it’s hard to paint a dire portrait of the year in-whole. I will continue to castigate Rich Rodriguez for his dumbassery against ASU on Saturday, especially in calling a mind-numbing Hail Mary play before the half that damn near killed Khalil Tate.

The loss to the Devils is infuriating, but doesn’t lessen the fact that Arizona’s in a good place heading into their TBD bowl destination. Kylan Wilborn, Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II highlight a defensive unit that could be special next fall, given Rich Rod and his staff can recruit reinforcements (and that’s a pretty big if). The expectations will surely be heightened next year, and Rodriguez and his staff will surely face much greater scrutiny from fans and administration alike, but for now it’s hard to cry too many tears over a seven-win regular season. Drink some beverages, take a few deep breaths and enjoy the fact that Arizona’s four wins ahead of their no-good, terrible 2016 campaign. The future might not be sparkling in the Old Pueblo, but at least there’s no FBI investigation to worry about.

Brandon Combs: I think one can be pleased about the overall season and disappointed at the same time. Disappointed in what could have been. However, one can also get over that quickly, because there is no reason to worry about that (especially since it won’t change anything). So I think pleased is the best word. Not over-joyed, but pleased.

I mean this team was picked to have the same season it did a year ago. There were signs of life and improvement in all aspects of the team, aside from punting (one of the main reasons I believe Arizona lost to Oregon and the school up north). Even the punt and kickoff coverages were better this year.

I would call this year a success overall. The Wildcats have four more wins than last year and are heading to a bowl game. These marks were unfathomable to many at the start of the season. The ‘Cats found their quarterback of the future. The defense, and team in general, has a great young, talented core to build upon. And that same defense gained a ton of experience this year. UA will still have a stable of running backs, with J.J. Taylor and Nathan Tilford next year. So yes, this year has been a success. Yes, the loss to the Scummies is hard and sucks and it’s something I personally don’t like going through, but the team has a great base to build upon heading into 2018.

Gabe Encinas: Rich Rodriguez has pulled off five winning seasons in six years, and by Arizona standards that sounds good. Going into this season, I expected this team to win four games at most, so I’ll say this season is a success.

But I'm afraid the October Khalil Tate simply just stalled out the inevitable, and installed a lot of false hope. This quarterback who only played due to injury single-handedly won Arizona a couple of football games.

I’m in the camp that Arizona needs to let go of Rich Rodriguez. The lack depth, talent evaluation, and development of players is hard for me to look past. Add in the overall Pac-12 record (24-30), particularly in the South, and the true numbers just don’t add up.

And next season when Arizona has to replace four of five offensive linemen, a makeshift defensive line, no wide receivers, and a group of mediocre punters, maybe then it will be time for a change in Tucson.

There is some good talent here and there, particularly with the defensive backs, tight ends and linebackers, but the position groups I mentioned above need a serious makeover.

Robby Leano: Yes and no. I believed at the beginning of the season that Arizona would be a 4-8 team. After the first four games of the season, I thought that was exactly what we’d get. Rich Rodriguez was making horrible play calls at the wrong times and there appeared to be no sense of urgency for the ‘Cats.

Enter the bye week, and then week 6 against Colorado. Quarterback Brandon Dawkins left the game early in the first quarter with an injury and in comes Khalil Tate. Here comes the story everyone has come to love: Tate essentially single-handedly turned the season around for the ‘Cats going from 2-2,to 6-2 (including a win over the then-No. 15 Washington State Cougars on homecoming night). That’s the successful part of the Wildcats season — proving everyone wrong and becoming bowl eligible — but there’s of course more to the season than eight games.

November came, and the Arizona Wildcats were shot right back down to reality. Khalil Tate’s super October performance distracted everyone from the continuous poor decision making from Rodriguez as well as poor defense. And as the story usually goes, a single player can only hold a team for so long. Arizona would then go on to lose three of their final four games, including the Territorial Cup to ASU.

So yes, Khalil Tate brought this Arizona team to a hopeful future with successful season of his own. The defense had its problems but moving forward it has some promise. But the unsuccessful piece was Rich Rodriguez’s coaching and decision making. Maybe it’s time to move in a different direction. At least Arizona has Tate for another year or two.

Alec Sills-Trausch: Deep sigh. At the macro level, yes. With a 5.5 over/under, from a pure wins perspective, this was successful — though I’m not sure if many Arizona fans are pounding their chests at the moment. Looking back on the season, the Houston and Utah games definitely stand out as winnable games that Arizona didn’t take advantage of, but even if Arizona had won those games, losing the last two games, including to a rival, will always put a sour taste on the season.

On a micro level, this was also successful. The fact we got Khalil Tate established as the program’s quarterback is huge. Yes, there are other issues but having a quarterback that excites the fan base, the players, and possible recruits are key to building any football team. Now, Tate isn’t the complete answer to all the other issues — Rich Rod and Co. need to figure out recruiting and scheming but for a team that came in with few expectations, it’s not completely unreasonable to look back on this season with some rose-colored glasses.

(It should also be noted that while I consider it a success, I’m none too pleased with how this season ended.)

Tony Capobianco: To me, the only good thing about last year’s miserable season was the dominating victory over Arizona State. I felt that back-to-back seasons without bowls would be a fireable offense. I also called the Territorial Cup game a “loser leaves town” match for two years now. Somehow the winner ended up leaving town.

Now to me, whether or not this season is considered to be a success depends on the bowl game. SB Nation has Arizona playing a revenge game against Boise State in Las Vegas (Oh please God, not them again) while ESPN has the Wildcats either in the Cactus Bowl against Kansas State or Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. So I either get to relive 2013 when the Wildcats destroyed Boston College or 2012 when they had to pull off an epic comeback to beat Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.

Either way, they better win.