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Arizona football: Wildcats move up in S&P+ ratings, show major improvement on special teams

Special teams could actually be a strong suit for the Wildcats this season

Northern Arizona v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After a 38-point win over NAU in their season-opener, the Arizona Wildcats have moved up in the updated S&P+ ratings, jumping from 68th overall to 62nd overall.

If you’re not familiar with S&P+ ratings, basically the numbers reflect a team’s efficiency, explosiveness, field position, ability to finish drives, and turnovers — what SB Nation’s Bill Connelly considers the Five Factors of college football.

Most importantly, S&P+ ratings are adjusted for opponents, so they are very similar to how KenPom evaluates college basketball teams.

Arizona currently has the 38th-ranked offense, 84th-ranked defense, and 33rd-ranked special teams, according to S&P+.

Last season, Arizona was 61st, 105th and 114th, respectively, and finished 96th overall.

Obviously, the biggest improvement Arizona has already made is on special teams. Shun Brown returned a punt for a touchdown vs. NAU — Arizona’s first since 2015 — plus Tyrell Johnson had a 58-yard kick return, and nine of 10 of Arizona’s kickoffs went for touchbacks, preventing the Lumberjacks from making any sort of mark in the return game.

The hire of new special teams coach Brian Knorr and addition of kickoff specialist Lucas Havrisik is paying dividends.

Offensively, while Arizona’s offense only tallied 89 yards through the air vs. NAU, it still gained 595 yards and averaged nearly 10 yards per play, meaning it was highly efficient, thus grading well in the S&P+ ratings. No turnovers, either.

The Wildcats’ defense has made strides from last season (that doesn’t say much), but not nearly enough as they’re still ranked 84th in that department.

Also, another thing happened: because of how poorly ASU played against New Mexico State, Arizona passed ASU in the S&P+ ratings. ASU started the season ranked 66th overall, but is now 64th — two spots under the Wildcats.

Still, Arizona is in for a much more difficult challenge Saturday when it hosts the Houston Cougars and we’ll get an increased sample size to see just how good this Arizona team is.

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire