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Arizona football: 5 Wildcats with the most to prove in 2018

Arizona’s success might depend on these five

NCAA Football: Arizona at Colorado Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are in contention for a Pac-12 South Championship in 2018, and they’ll need all hands on deck.

Some guys last season had incredible performances, and they’ll need to continue that pace to keep Arizona in the right direction. Others have yet to contribute much and will need to step up into a big role. And others will need to bounce back to form and lead their position groups.

Alas, here are five Wildcats with a lot to prove in 2018.

Khalil Tate

Khalil Tate had one of the most incredible stretches in college football history last season. He kept Arizona from having yet another embarrassing season and single-handedly won football games with his explosiveness.

Can he do it again in 2018?

He’s a true dual-threat quarterback that attracts all the attention of a defense with his arm and legs. And perhaps we’ve only seen the beginning, as he onlyhas nine starts to his name, and is still only 19 years old.

He’ll have a new offense to learn featuring more short passes and likely won’t have as much freedom to run on his own. Teams also started to limit his home run ability toward the end of season.

Tate needs to stay healthy and execute in order to show the college football world that Arizona is coming for the national stage, while proving that he’s a legitimate Heisman candidate and NFL quarterback.

Nathan Tilford

Nathan Tilford was the highest ranked recruit of the 2017 class, considered a top 250, four-star prospect that came with a lot of hype.

He entered the program with the talent level and build of an SEC running back at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. He ended up burning his redshirt on special teams and 13 carries, only one coming in Pac-12 play.

J.J. Taylor is the lead back, and he’s more than capable of being an every down back, despite the stigma that comes with his 5-foot-6, 180 pound frame. But Tilford can be the ultimate complement to Taylor, and be the power back that Arizona desperately needs.

Both the old and new staff have alluded to the fact that he just needs to learn a little more before he sees the field. The talent is there, and so is the opportunity to step in and take a huge workload. It just comes down to putting it all together when the light come on.

Shawn Poindexter

Shawn Poindexter has certainly received a lot of attention this offseason. This will now be his third season at Arizona and everyone is hoping this is the year he breaks outs.

He has the 6-foot-5, 215 pound frame that makes him a mismatch against any Pac-12 corner. But in two seasons, he has just 25 catches for 376 yards and one touchdown.

Fortunately, he ended the season with his best game yet, hauling in five catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. He started to hit his stride with Tate running the show, building some chemistry and connecting on the deep ball.

Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come. Shun Brown is the clear No. 1 option, but after that the depth is filled with inexperience and question marks, allowing Poindexter to step up and come up with a big senior season.

Michael Eletise

Michael Eletise is one of the top recruits to ever sign with Arizona. He was invited to Nike’s The Opening, the Under Armour All-America Game and held over 30 Power Five offers.

Now a redshirt sophomore, he’s in line to start at left guard where he’ll have to keep Khalil Tate clean, and help lead Arizona to its third consecutive Pac-12 rushing title.

A new offensive lineman brings uncertainty at such a technical position. But Eletise sits in a good spot on the line. He’ll have Layth Friekh, who will be entering his fourth year as a starter to his left. To his right he’ll have Nathan Eldridge, who is entering his third season as a starter at center.

If Eletise can put it all together and live up to his recruiting ranking, he can become an anchor on the line and pencil his name as the starter through 2020.

Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles

It’s been a roller coaster for Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. He had a stellar sophomore campaign finishing with 78 tackles, six pass breakups and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus calculations had him as the top returning play making safety in the Pac-12.

As a junior, he upped his tackles to 81 and added three interceptions, all of which came in the first two games of the season. Something just seemed off as the season went on.

There were quite a few missed open field tackles, lapses in coverage and just poor plays on the ball — things you wouldn’t expect to see so often from him. He was in position to make plays, things just didn’t seem to click.

He’s the most experienced safety in the group, as he returns as the lone senior. As a four-year contributor and three-year starter, he’s the leader this young group of safeties needs.

The expectations are high for DFF. He has the frame, skill set and experience to be a dominant safety in the Pac-12.