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Using preseason S&P+ ratings to predict Arizona’s 2019 season

How Arizona football coaches have fared in their debuts Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Most years—including this last one—the struggles of the football team would often prompt queries as to when basketball season began for the Arizona Wildcats. That sentiment has been flipped on its head thanks to a lost campaign for Sean Miller and his squad.

Arizona begins spring practice on March 18, at which time we’ll get our first glimpse of members Kevin Sumlin’s first full-fledged recruiting class, including quarterback Grant Gunnell and a quartet of junior college linemen.

While spring ball is cool and all, it’s nothing like the real thing. Too bad the 2019 season is more than six months away, though it’s nice that Arizona gets things started earlier than everyone else with an Aug. 24 game at Hawaii.

How will Arizona do in that game, as well as the other 11 on the schedule? At this point it’s anyone’s guess, though some experts—and ranking metrics—are more accurate than others. Take SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, whose S&P+ ratings are among the best in the business.

Arizona finished 58th out of 130 FBS teams last season, which probably seems high for a team that went 5-7 overall and 4-5 in a watered down Pac-12. Among power-conference teams, though, the Wildcats were 49th-best out of 65.

For 2019, Connelly has Arizona ranked slightly better at No. 52, which equates to eighth in the Pac-12 (just behind ASU). Breaking it down by category, Arizona is 45th in returning production, 55th in recruiting impact—using a four-year recruiting ranking average—and 60th in a weighted five-year average ranking.

Furthermore, Arizona’s offense is projected to be 49th while its defense is 55th. That defensive number seems a little … high, but we’re not the experts.

(If you’re curious exactly how Connelly tabulates these categories, he goes into great depth here. Great reading if you’re a metric junkie.)

Using these S&P+ ratings, and factoring in home-field advantage, Arizona is projected to win 6.092 games this fall. That would translate to a record somewhere between 5-7 and 7-5, though the range really should be 4 to 8 wins when factoring in the complete unpredictability of 18- to 22-year-old athletes.

Here’s a breakdown of the Wildcats’ chances in each game, including a projected point spread created by giving a 2.5-point boost to each home team:

NOTE: Win probability is calculated using a formula provided by

The above chart is by no means expected to be treated as gospel, especially since S&P+ doesn’t rate FCS teams and thus Arizona is given a 100 percent chance to beat NAU. The Wildcats have struggled against these lower-division teams on occasion, trailing Grambling in 2016 and leading Southern Utah by just seven at halftime last September, so there are no givens.

Based on these numbers, Arizona’s season can be broken down into two sections: a soft and easy start followed by a gauntlet over the final eight weeks.

In other words, the Wildcats could open 5-0 but then lose six of seven down the stretch. If not for Oregon State’s placement Nov. 2 as the Homecoming game, Arizona would be underdogs in every game from Oct. 12 on.