The light has turned green, but the Arizona Wildcats won’t be putting their foot on the gas for another few days.
Despite the Pac-12 approving the return of football this fall, with games starting Nov. 6, Arizona is still putting together a timeline for getting to what will end up being a twice-delayed 2020 season opener. And who the Wildcats will face in that first contest is only one of the contributing factors.
Coach Kevin Sumlin said Friday the team has meetings scheduled Sunday with the players and parents to “talk about what the plan is going forward with practice.” At that time he expects to have a schedule outlined, starting with a “ramp-up” period where Arizona can go from 12 to 20 hours per week of countable activities before moving into a full-fledged preseason training camp.
But that camp won’t be exactly like the kind that would happen in the summer, Sumlin said, since school has been underway since Aug. 24.
“We’d already worked on a 6-week model,” he said. “A lot of the questions that the players and the parents had, we’re still working on. I felt like on Sunday we’d be able to answer those questions in detail.”
Sumlin said Arizona has been holding, on average, three NFL-style OTA (offseason training activity) practices each week where it can wear helmets, use tackling sleds and dummies and line up in formations. He expects four such workouts next week and then five the week after before moving into official preseason practice during the first full week of October.
“We want to maximize our six weeks,” he said. “Our ramp up next week becomes as important as anything.”
NCAA rules allow for preseason practice to begin 29 days before the first game, which would mean Oct. 8 or 9 depending on if Arizona opens Nov. 6 or 7.
Not knowing who the Wildcats will play in that first game, or in any contest, only adds to the uncertainty at this point. Sumlin said Arizona could have a schedule as early as this weekend, though it may not know its opponents until early next week.
“That’s part of why we’ve held off meeting,” he said. “There’s only so many teams you can play.”
While every Pac-12 team will have the same number of preseason practices, Arizona may have a leg up on many of its conference mates because of the work it’s gotten in to this point. The Wildcats held four spring practices before the coronavirus pandemic shut down college sports in March, while several in the league got none, and schools in California and Oregon are just now getting approved to be on the field.
“Yeah, there’s challenges, but there are challenges for other teams in this league that didn’t have any practice in the spring,” Sumlin said. “The key is how you handled the last couple of months.”