Are you feeling a bit down on things these days? It’s understandable if you are, because the world is not in a great place right now.
Just whatever you do, it’s probably best not to think of Arizona football and what’s to come this next season.
If you read my other piece about why there are reasons for optimism regarding the team, thank you. Understand that while this piece is the other side of the coin, I do genuinely believe the team will be better than many expect.
But that’s in no way a given (I’ve been wrong before) and if there’s one thing UA fans should know by now, it’s that nice things are not usually part of the deal.
So if you refuse to get excited about the Wildcats entering Kevin Sumlin’s third season keep reading, because here are five reasons why Arizona is going to be near the Pac-12 South basement once again.
Khalil Tate (the good one) is not walking through that door
The Wildcats won a whole three games in 2016. Yes, one of their victories came in the funniest game I’ve ever seen against Arizona State, but it’s fair to say they were a bad football team.
The Cats probably weren’t much better the following season yet mustered seven victories largely because Khalil Tate had a stretch as the best player in college football. But as defenses started to figure him out, injuries took their toll or the new coaching staff held him back, the QB was not nearly as magical. Arizona has struggled to win ever since.
What did that tell us? Well, for a stretch Tate was so great that he carried a poor football team across the finish line, and without him playing at that level the rest of the team simply wasn’t good enough to win. Will Grant Gunnell be that transcendent? It would be unfair to expect and foolish to count on.
The cupboard was bare when Sumlin arrived; it’s not too full now
Arizona’s coach did not inherit a great situation when he took over in January 2018. The Wildcats were coming off a bowl appearance yet no one could have said the roster was loaded. Fixing that was imperative, which is why recruiting classes that ranked 11th, 11th and 12th in the conference do not exactly inspire confidence.
There are always diamonds in the rough, and it would be wrong to say Arizona doesn’t have any good players. The Wildcats do have some quality players, and could actually field a solid starting 11 on each side of the ball. But what about after that?
Depth is such an issue we heard plenty of it during the team’s abbreviated spring practice. Arizona’s talent pool is quite shallow, meaning injuries will hurt them more than they would other teams.
Losing practice time will be a problem
Some of the issues the Wildcats are facing are of their own making, but one thing they could not control was the Covid-19 pandemic. It shut things down after Arizona got an entire four practices in, which is even worse when you consider the team was implementing an entirely new defense led by a revamped coaching staff while also trying to get a sophomore QB ready for his first season as the guy.
So yeah, the practice time would have been valuable. Players would have had some real-live experience in the new system and the coaches would have been able to start figuring out who could do what. The shutdown could have then been a kind of offseason, with this time spent going over areas that need to be improved.
Now, it’s possible that whenever football starts up again there will be a grace period to allow for “spring” to take place. For teams that got their full allotment of practices in (like ASU, because of course) that could given them the benefit of even more practice time, while for Arizona that means just trying to catch up.
Speaking of coaching, we all know what’s on the line
Sumlin arrived with high expectations, but two seasons and nine wins later confidence in the head coach has all but disappeared. It was no secret that there was talk of the program cutting ties with him at the end of last season, with the prevailing theory being that a lack of funds prevented the move from being made.
Regardless of why Sumlin was not fired, it’s all but certain that he’s entering this next season with his job on the line. Dropping the final seven games of the 2019 season means the team better get off to a fast start in 2020, otherwise we’re likely to see interim head coach Paul Rhoads at some point. It’s not unheard of, as the Wildcats dropped their final five games in 2010 and after starting the following year 1-6 canned then-coach Mike Stoops.
Sure, knowing they must win for Sumlin to keep his job could motivate them. Or, as is often the case, it may lead to everyone being on edge.
The schedule could have been easier
The Wildcats started last season 4-1, which was nice but only paved the way for that disastrous finish. To be fair, the only game they should have been expected to win over the final two months was at home against Oregon State, which was arguably the worst defeat of them all.
The schedule got tough, and the Wildcats wilted.
The 2020 campaign sets up to be a repeat, as one could argue their first six games are all winnable. The Cats start off with home games against Hawaii, Portland State and Stanford before road tilts at Texas Tech and UCLA. They then host Colorado. Win them all and the Wildcats will be bowl eligible. Lose one or more and the chances of reaching the postseason are greatly diminished because after that stretch the schedule gets significantly more difficult.
That’s five reasons and the guess here is you could add at least a few more of your own. The truth is until Arizona can consistently win there will be little reason they can do it.
It’s understandable if you have no faith in the coaching staff because, quite frankly, there is little evidence to show that they are capable of doing the job. But as of now they and the team will get a season to prove that yes, the program is on the right track.
Until the games happen, though, the negative vibes will remain.