The Pac-12 is up for grabs this season and the Arizona Wildcats have drawn yet another favorable schedule.
Four of Arizona’s Pac-12 opponents will be operating under a new coach, and many teams have graduated a bulk of their depth or sent their key players to the NFL.
Meanwhile, Arizona is looking to revamp the program under the direction of Kevin Sumlin. It’s a young team at its core, including Khalil Tate on offense and an extremely young, but talented defense.
Nothing is for certain, but Arizona is certainly in play for the Pac-12 South title.
Let’s take look at their schedule week-by-week.
vs. BYU — September 1
BYU had a brutal six game stretch last year of LSU, Utah, Wisconsin, Utah State, Boise State and Mississippi State and ended up finishing 4-8.
They’re coming back with 85% of their offense and 81% of their defense from last season. Still, they’re only projected to win four games, and ESPN gives them a 15% chance of winning at Arizona.
I think that game is fairly close, maybe not as close as it once was back in 2016, but it’s no sure-fire win. It is, however, a more competitive opponent to open up with that will give you a general feel of how Arizona can look.
@ Houston — September 8
Houston will be losing a lot of talent from 2017. But among those returning is Ed Oliver, who already declared for the 2019 NFL Draft and is likely a top-three pick.
He wreaked havoc on Arizona’s offense line last season when they met in Tucson. He finished with 11 tackles (1.5 loss), forced a fumble and blocked a kick.
With Arizona breaking in almost an entirely new offensive line next season, it’s going to cause the offense some trouble. Keep in mind that Layth Friekh will still be serving his two-game suspension, too.
But I’ll take Kevin Sumlin to beat his former school in Houston.
Southern Utah - September 15
Southern Utah was an FCS playoff team last season, going 9-3. But they’ll be replacing a two-year starting quarterback, one who led a top-20 offense in 2017. The Thunderbirds had one of the worst defenses in all of FCS last season, too.
They’re still a step up from NAU however, as they’ve beaten them each of the last four seasons. Hopefully it can still flow like your typical NAU game — resting starters and building up depth late in the game.
@ Oregon State — September 22
Oregon State will not be very good.
They slowly started to improve under Gary Anderson and proved to be somewhat competitive, but got absolutely wrecked last season, going 1-11.
According to ESPN, the Beavers have ninth-toughest schedule in the nation and are given a 77.9% chance of beating Southern Utah. The next closest projected win is Nevada at 29.5%.
vs. USC — September 29
This seems to be an opponent that, no matter how Arizona is doing that season, they always played them tough aside from the 2016 season, which was Khalil Tate’s first career start.
He’s come a long way since then and USC is going to have to desperately reload their lineups. I’m still not a huge believer in Clay Helton, and there is still no true replacement to Sam Darnold either.
This is a very, very winnable game. Probably more than ever in the past few years against USC. I think Arizona plays them tough once again, but I think they fall just short here.
vs. California - October 6 (Family Weekend)
I’m not so sure Cal is a pushover in the Pac-12 North anymore. I think Justin Wilcox is getting them in the right direction and they could win some big games in the Pac-12 this season.
Being at home certainly helps, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Cal can come in and win, especially with Arizona having USC the week before. I’ll still take Arizona here.
@ Utah - October 12 (Friday)
I’m worried about heading up to Salt Lake City on a Friday night. But Utah has an unfavorable stretch where they play Washington, get a bye week before heading to Washington State, and then go back on the road to Stanford before coming back for Arizona, with just six days of rest after what should be a physical game against the Cardinal.
Utah is just consistently competitive, and I just don’t like this road trip in mid-October. It’s really Arizona’s first true hostile environment of the season where Arizona could potentially be ranked as well.
@ UCLA - October 20
The Chip Kelly era is awfully fascinating. But, again, they’re another Pac-12 team that doesn’t return a whole lot, including quarterback Josh Rosen, and UCLA was awful without him.
Playing on the road puts Arizona at a disadvantage, and this is coming off a road trip from Utah, but I think they finally beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl with that extra day of rest helping too.
UCLA just doesn’t seem that threatening at the moment.
vs. Oregon - October 27 (Homecoming)
Oregon has quite the offense when Justin Herbert is healthy. But they’ll be without Royce Freeman, who is second all-time in the Pac-12 in rushing yards and first all-time for rushing touchdowns.
Right now, it’s hard for me to say Arizona will win with as much confidence as I do with all of these other programs.
vs. Colorado - November 2 (Friday)
Colorado is going to be very bad next season. They will beat New Hampshire. That might actually be it.
Bye - November 10
At this point it’s not crazy to think that Arizona has eight wins. There’s not a lot of depth here on the roster, but there hasn’t been a crazy stretch of games. The toughest stretch for Arizona is at Utah, at UCLA and back home for Oregon, which isn’t that bad.
@ Washington State - November 17
This is an interesting game now because of the addition of East Carolina grad transfer quarterback Garnder Minshew. Prior to his addition, I felt much more comfortable with a win.
Now I could see this going either way, but I think another year of Arizona’s young defense goes a long way, especially against an offense like Washington State.
vs. Arizona State - November 24
Arizona and Arizona State will both be entering with new head coaches, bringing more juice into the Territorial Cup as each school begins their new era.
ASU has an absolutely brutal schedule in 2018, as ESPN ranks its as the eleventh-toughest in the country. They host Michigan State, head to SDSU and go north to Washington in weeks 2-4.
The final six weeks of the season the Sun Devils play Stanford on a Thursday and get a few extra days before heading to USC. Then they return to Tempe for Utah and UCLA, then head to Oregon before they come to Tucson.
I doubt they’re even in contention for a bowl game entering the Territorial Cup, making the game more special for them.
ASU will be without a lot of defensive talent next year, who are all headed for the NFL right now. Their offense should be relatively powerful. Anything goes in this game but at home I think Kevin Sumlin tops off his first season on the right note.