The college football season is right around the corner, and the Arizona Wildcats were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 (both in the South division and overall) by the media by a rather wide margin.
Barring a season full of surprises, the Wildcats appear destined to have another lackluster year.
Now, let’s say we’re in an alternate universe and the Pac-12 decides it wants to improve the parity in the conference, so it creates a rule to allow the conference’s worst team to acquire any player from another Pac-12 school’s roster.
Who should Arizona take? Our staff discusses it.
Brandon Combs: I’d choose Vita Vea of the Washington Huskies.
Vea at defensive tackle, Sione Taufahema at nose tackle, and Justin Belknap, Parker Zellers, or Jalen Cochran at defensive end — that’s a tenacious defensive line right there. Or you could move Vea to nose and have Larry Tharpe or Finton Connolly at defensive tackle with the same defensive ends and that would still be a solid line.
Offensive lines would implode in on themselves like a dying star.
Gabe Encinas: Arizona has an issue at linebacker and this group is going to be very young, and the smart pick would be Cameron Smith of the USC Trojans. That said, I like what Arizona’s 2017 recruiting class brings to the table and think they can eventually hold it together at the position.
So instead, I’m stealing from the Arizona State Sun Devils and taking N’Keal Harry, 6-foot-4, 216 pound wide receiver. The Chandler native was the No. 8 ranked wide receiver in the nation in the 2016 recruiting class, and he heavily considered Arizona.
As a true freshman, Harry hauled in 58 passes for 659 yards and five touchdowns. He also added three carries for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
Arizona does not have a lot of height nor experience at wide receiver, with Shawn Poindexter (6-foot-5) and Zach Benjamin (6-foot-4) being the biggest targets. No other scholarship receiver is over 5-foot-11. If Brandon Dawkins can just throw it in the vicinity of Harry, he will come down with it and open up Arizona’s offense.
And Harry’s girlfriend runs track for Arizona so this seems like a win-win.
Ronnie Stoffle: Sam Darnold is the obvious choice not only because he is a stud and is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, but also because Arizona have an unstable quarterback situation.
For the sake of thinking outside the box, I would choose linebacker Azeem Victor of Washington.
Despite missing three games last season, Victor was still named to the All Pac-12 First Team. His season-ending injury is a bit of a concern but he is expected to be 100 percent for the 2017 season.
Victor would be an invaluable asset to UA’s defense and also to Arizona’s young and inexperienced linebacking corps.
Players who possess a nose for the ball like Victor are extremely rare. Over the last 23 games he’s played, he’s recorded 162 tackles (more than seven per game). Simply put, he is the difference maker the Wildcats desperately need on defense.
Ryan Kelapire: I am not going to overthink this. I would take Sam Darnold.
The USC quarterback would immediately become the best quarterback in Arizona football history, and his presence alone would make the Wildcats an interesting team to watch.
How effective would he be at Arizona? Who knows. Arizona’s offensive line isn’t great and its receivers might be even worse, so Darnold would not have nearly the same supporting cast in Tucson as he does at USC.
Even still, he is massive upgrade over Brandon Dawkins and Arizona has a strong stable of running backs, so the offense could become quite good with Darnold behind center.
It would also be interesting to see how Rich Rodriguez’s offense changes with a dominant passing quarterback like Darnold. Anu Solomon has been the only above average passer Rodriguez has had at Arizona.
Also, if Arizona had Darnold and USC didn’t, the Trojans would be significantly weakened and it would actually give the Wildcats a shot to win the Pac-12 South, assuming Darnold can elevate the offense enough to overshadow what’s expected to be a weak defense for UA.
Lastly, Darnold has a chance to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in 2018, and producing a player of that caliber would undoubtedly help Arizona football’s reputation and thus improve its recruiting down the road.
Christopher Boan: Hate to diverge from the Sam Darnold crowd here, but I’d have to take Jake Browning for sure.
The 6-foot-2 gunslinger hails from the home of Johnny Cash’s infamous “Folsom Prison Blues,” so you’d better believe he’s got the blue-collar drive that RichRod and the rest of the Wildcats so desperately need.
Also, Browning is an absolute stud behind center, putting up gaudy stats under Chris Peterson last fall, including 3,430 passing yards and 43 passing TDs (to only nine interceptions).
Browning’s stats blow away Arizona’s paltry QB production in 2016, as the ‘Cats managed to throw for a mere 13 TDs, while chucking 12 picks during that time frame.
While a large part of Browning’s renaissance had to do with the athletic freak that is John Ross (who hauled in 17 TDs alone), it also has to do with his poise and rocket-powered arm.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the grandson of the Marlboro Man, but Darnold is helped out by having an embarrassment of riches around him with the Trojans.
Browning, meanwhile, has to do a lot more on his own, and has an extra year of experience under his belt, which would come through in spades this fall for Rodriguez and company, who are once again tasked with trying to haul a dead horse across the finish line in the quagmire that is the Pac-12 South.
Browning’s passer rating (167.5) was higher than Darnold’s (161.1) last year, and he’s got the combo of talent and experience that championship-caliber teams crave.
I’d love to see Browning and Shun Brown hook up for 25 TDs a year, which they’d probably have to do for Arizona to have a shot at beating any of their southerly foes.
Unfortunately, that’s a pipe dream at this point, but a man can dream, I suppose.