It remains to be seen if the Arizona Wildcats will play football in 2020. But if they do, keep an eye on these five players, who will make or break the team’s proficiency on that side of the ball.
Grant Gunnell, sophomore QB
2019 Stats: 8 games, 101-for-155, 1,239 yards, 9 TD, 1 INT; 32 carries, 14 yards, 1 TD
There’s no other place to start than Arizona’s signal caller. Gunnell lit up the Texas high school football scene and did a fantastic job in limited action in 2019. He even led the Cats to a victory in his first career start against UCLA. Gunnell flashed great touch, vision, and decision-making, especially for a true freshman, evidenced by the fact he only threw one pick.
This season, Gunnell enters the season as the clear No. 1 in the quarterback room. Behind him you have veteran Rhett Rodriguez and newcomer Will Plummer. Kevin Doyle, who probably would have been the No. 2, opted out over health concerns, thinning the depth chart just a bit—and heightening Gunnell’s value.
I’d expect an uptick in QB play this year and expect the ball to be spread all over the field. Gunnell is going to surprise some people this year.
Gary Brightwell, senior RB
2019 Stats: 11 games, 66 car, 390 yards, 5 TD; 4 rec, 59 yards, 1 TD
I’m really eager to see how Brightwell performs this season. This’ll be the first time in his career that he’ll be RB1 after J.J. Taylor left to pursue his NFL dream, and I expect him to continue his production, if not increase it.
The RB room is possibly Arizona’s deepest position group on the team, but that’ll only help Brightwell. He will be complemented by a number of different running styles that’ll only make the group even more dangerous. He also has great size and has proven to be a difficult player to tackle.
Brightwell, who says he can run a 4.3, is also one of the fastest players on the team, capable of breaking off big runs.
Jamarye Joiner, redshirt sophomore WR
2019 Stats: 12 games, 34 rec, 552 yards, 5 TD
There is probably no one’s progress and growth I’m more excited to see than Joiner’s. He is arguably the best athlete on the team, which made his transition from quarterback to receiver extremely easy. Last season it felt like it was a matter of time before he had a breakout game and it finally came during the last game of the season during the Territorial Cup.
He’s fully healed from a Jones fracture he suffered in the spring, and this extended break will do nothing but help him get back on the field once the season begins.
Still new to the position, Joiner has such a high ceiling and has yet to fully tap into his potential as a receiver. His speed, size and playmaking ability make him one of the most dangerous receivers in the Pac-12. I expect a large jump in his progression this season, especially with Gunnell behind center.
Donovan Laie, junior OL
2019 Stats: 12 games, 12 starts
Laie has been a staple on the offensive line since arriving on campus. He busted onto the scene as a true freshman after fall camp and became one of the best young offensive linemen in the Pac-12.
Laie did have somewhat of a sophomore slump last year, but he was a little dinged up so that could explain it. He also showed some versatility as he moved inside to left guard from left tackle when Arizona was struck with injuries.
Laie can be an NFL talent. I feel that he will make a big jump in his game this season and have his best year yet.
Josh McCauley, redshirt senior OL
2019 Stats: 10 games, 10 starts
Last but not least, we come to senior center Josh McCauley. He’s another great story as he came to Arizona as a walk-on and earned a scholarship because of his play and work ethic.
McCauley earned the starting gig at center in 2018 after Nathan Eldridge was sidelined with a knee injury and made the most of it, starting in every game in 2018 and cementing himself as a leader on the line.
That earned McCauley a scholarship prior to the 2019 season and his value became apparent when got hurt during the Oregon State game and the offensive line suffered without him. McCauley then exhibited toughness when he played through injury in the Territorial Cup.
He figures to once again be a major leader along the offensive line this season, a unit that will need to mesh and stay healthy in order for Gunnell to play his best.