The earliest game in Arizona football history is now less than a week away.
The Wildcats officially wrapped up training camp on Friday, the last of 17 practices since camp opened on July 25. From here on out any practices, film sessions or walk-throughs will be geared specifically toward an opponent.
The first of those is Hawaii, whom Arizona faces in Honolulu on Saturday night in a Week Zero game that’s one of just two on the FBS schedule (Florida vs. Miami, in Orlando, is the other).
The vibe around the team had already changed on Friday, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said.
“It’s like the doldrums of camp and now all of a sudden … it’s starting to hit them that it’s game week,” he said. “And actually, we’re leaving next Wednesday … so it’s going to happen fast for them.”
Mazzone’s offense figures to feature at least five first-time starters against Hawaii, balancing out the experience that comes from veterans like senior quarterback Khalil Tate and junior running back J.J. Taylor. Senior Cedric Peterson the only returning wide receiver with starting experience, leaving the other three spots open for new starters, and two of the five offensive line spots are also expected to go to first-time starters.
Arizona’s defense has a change to have every starting spot occupied by someone who made at least one start in 2018 or earlier, though several newcomers are expected to see action including junior college transfer defensive linemen Trevon Mason and Myles Tapusoa and freshman defensive back Christian Roland-Wallace.
The same goes for the Wildcat offense, where freshmen such as running back Michael Wiley and receiver Boobie Curry should be in the mix in the opener.
“You just prepare as well as you can,” Mazzone said, when asked what he would tell a freshman set to make his debut. “We’re going to find out about a lot of guys come Saturday night. There’s going to be some nervousness, there’s going to be some guys in their first college football game. It’ll be fun to see how they all react to that.”
Arizona had six first-time starters in the opening lineup for last year’s opener against BYU, which was Kevin Sumlin’s first game as coach. In Rich Rodriguez’s last season in 2017 the Wildcats had five first-time starters but just one on offense.
“We’ve got a relatively young team, a lot of these guys haven’t done this before,” Mazzone said. “It’ll be fun to watch them.”