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Taking Stock: How Arizona football is looking under coach Jedd Fisch

arizona-wildcats-football-stock-report-evaluation-program-2022-jedd-fisch-kevin-sumlin-pac-12 Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason is here, with all of Arizona’s sports done for 2021-22 and the 2022-23 campaigns still a little ways away.

Which makes this a great time to step back and see how all of the Wildcats’ programs are doing.

Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at each of the UA’s 19 men’s and women’s programs to see what shape they’re in and what prospects they have for the near future. We’ll break down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now while also looking at this season and beyond.

First up: Jedd Fisch’s football team

How it looked before

The Kevin Sumlin hire was met with mixed reviews in January 2018 and they didn’t get much better. The former Texas A&M coach gave Arizona a name brand but couldn’t produce on the field, going 9-20 with a 12-game losing streak to end his 3-season tenure.

The final straw was the 70-7 home loss to ASU to end the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, in which Arizona went 0-5 after losing the final seven games of 2019 following a 4-1 start.

Looking to go in a completely different direction, athletic director Dave Heeke and school president Robert C. Robbins turned to journeyman NFL/college assistant Fisch to try and get a sinking ship to float again.

Where things stand now

Outside of the win-loss record, everything Fisch has done has turned to gold. Interest in the program is way up, not just locally but across college football, though that didn’t translate into ticket sales in his first season. That figures to change this fall with fans likely to come out and see the best recruiting class in at least 15 years.

Arizona’s ability to land 4-star prospects like receiver Tetairoa McMillan and running back Rayshon ‘Speedy’ Luke and to be a destination for transfers like reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Jayden de Laura is a sign that the sales pitch Fitch and his staff have put together is working. The overall talent level on the field in 2022 will be leaps and bounds what was there in the past few seasons.

Now, though, some on-field results have to start popping up. Arizona went 1-11 in Fisch’s first season, the only victory coming on Homecoming against a Cal team missing several starters due to COVID protocols, and then lost the next three. The nonconference schedule this fall (at San Diego State, vs. Mississippi State, vs. FCS champion North Dakota State) is tougher than a year ago, and most sportsbooks have the Wildcats’ win total at 2.5.

Fisch is entering the second year of a 5-year contract that will pay him $2.6 million in 2022, the same amount as his first season. He’s set to make $2.8 million in 2023, $3 million in 2024 and $3.1 million in 2025.

One big question

Can Fisch and his staff coach? They’ve proven they can attract talent to Tucson, but that doesn’t automatically translate into wins. The offensive play calling in 2021 was no doubt impacted by the talent on hand, not to mention injuries, but the complete inability to score in the red zone was hard to ignore.

Arizona’s defense was vastly improved last season, at least in part due to the coaching of Don Brown, who has since left to be head coach at UMass. New defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen promises to be even more aggressive than Brown, but such an approach could backfire like it often did in 2021 when the UA allowed 10 plays of 50 or more yards and six that went for 60-plus.