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Arizona projected to be 33rd-best team in college football in 2018

With a lot of returning production, but a few down years of recruiting, can the Wildcats crack the top 25 in 2018?

Washington State v Arizona Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats’ first game of the 2018 season isn’t for another 194 days, but it’s not too early to take a look at some of the early projections for how the Wildcats will do next year.

Over at SB, Bill Connelly put together a very early projection of how all 130 teams in college football will do next season based on what production is returning, how the team has recruited, and how the team has done in recent history.

Using these factors, Arizona ranks 33rd for 2018. The Wildcats’ returning production — the most heavily weighted factor — ranks 25th, but recruiting is 45th and recent history is 63rd.

Under these projections, Arizona is ranked as the third-best team in the Pac-12 South (behind USC and Utah) and the sixth-best team in the Pac-12 (with Washington, Stanford, and Oregon also ranked ahead of them).

This ranking makes sense.

Without question, Arizona returns a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. Khalil Tate and J.J. Taylor were both electrifying on offense, and on defense, Kylan Wilborn, Tony Fields II, and Colin Schooler should lead an improved defense.

At the same time, Arizona’s recruiting dipped under Rich Rodriguez, with the No. 45 class in 2017, No. 48 in 2016, and No. 43 in 2015. And Arizona’s recent history hasn’t been particularly impressive, with one Fiesta Bowl appearance sandwiched between a host of middling seasons.

Finally, it’s worth noting that these rankings show how favorable Arizona’s schedule is for next season. Arizona doesn’t have to play Stanford or Washington in-conference, and the Wildcats get Oregon and USC at home. For a Pac-12 South team, Arizona’s conference slate is as weak as it could possibly be. On the non-conference side, BYU is ranked 76th and Houston is ranked 59th, both considerably behind Arizona.

With so much returning production, a favorable schedule, and a new coach in Kevin Sumlin, Arizona is well-positioned to outperform its expected ranking in 2018.