Arizona coach Jedd Fisch has referred to last season, his first with the school, as “Year Zero” because the roster was largely made up of players his staff didn’t recruit.
With that in mind he is viewing 2022 as the first year of the program’s rebuild.
While it is a bit of a play on words meant to soften the blow of a 1-11 campaign, there is certainly some validity to his perspective. There’s a reason it is said a coach should be given at least a few seasons before any judgment is made, and if this past offseason is any indication of what Fisch and his staff will accomplish, better days are ahead.
Could those days be this upcoming season? Arizona was picked to finish 11th by the Pac-12 media, while the folks who set the betting lines have them hovering around 3 wins.
Never before has the possibility of tripling the previous season’s win total seemed so sad and unexciting.
Of course there are others who are a bit higher on Arizona’s chances. One such person is Justin McIllece, who has an algorithm that looks to predict what will happen in the upcoming season. According to the numbers, he predicts the Wildcats to be the most-improved team in the country.
Having chatted with McIllece on Wildcat Radio 2.0, the idea that Arizona would not only be better, but actually pretty good, started to seem more realistic. And hey, given that now is the time for optimism, it seems like a good reason to looks into what we want to see in fall camp to really feel good about this roster.
So without further ado, here’s what needs to happen:
de Laura proves to be the answer
Saying the quarterback is important hardly qualifies as high-level football analysis. We all saw how the offense struggled last year with inconsistency at the position, and the hope—or expectation, really—is that quality play from that spot will produce an offense that scores substantially more than 17.2 points per game.
Could Jayden de Laura be the key to unlocking the roster’s hidden potential? The Wildcats have high-level talent at the skill positions, with size, speed and athleticism at running back, receiver and tight end. The offensive line is a question mark, sure, though they’ll certainly look better if the receivers can get open more quickly and the QB can get them the ball.
We know from his time at Washington State that de Laura can play. The question is can he play well in a vastly different scheme. The guess here is yes, because he wouldn’t have transferred to Arizona if he didn’t want to learn a more pro-style system.
Can he learn it quickly enough to be comfortable on Sept. 3 at San Diego State? He had all of spring ball and now gets an entire fall camp as the team’s QB1, so the opportunity is there.
The kids show they’re ready
Arizona assembled the 22nd-best recruiting class in the country. Plenty went into the sales pitch, but no doubt the opportunity to play as freshmen helped.
In previous years relying on freshmen would not have seemed so exciting. But it’s difficult to imagine Tetairoa McMillan not finding his way into a consistent and impactful role, with the same going for Keyan Burnett, Jonah Coleman, Jonah Savaiinaea and others, especially on defense.
In reality it would not be a surprise to see a good chunk of the class see the field, but how many and how early will be decided over these next few weeks. Arizona has had impact freshmen before, but rarely has there been a class filled with so many players who you can confidently say will play because they are the best option, not the last one.
The coaches are a year wiser
There aren’t many people who have taken to blaming the coaches for what happened last season. The coaches weren’t perfect, but given what they had to work with and that it was their first season some leeway was warranted. But just as players are expected to learn and grow, so too are coaches.
Last year we often heard about how difficult Fisch’s system was to pick up. For the QBs, at least. Was the playbook too large? Too complicated or different from what they were used to? Whatever the case, it took too long for everyone to get on the same page.
Ideally Fisch and his staff have improved in their teaching methods, because Arizona needs to be ready to go right out of the gate. Given that much of the roster was either on the team last season or was in town for spring ball, this should not be as much of an issue as it was last year.
Emphasis on should.
Improved talent makes a difference
It’s very difficult to figure out how good or bad a team is when it is practicing against itself. Are interceptions a sign of good defense or bad offense? Is the offense scoring at will an indication of what is to come on either side of the ball?
What can be seen, especially from observers who have watched a lot of (bad) football over the years, is the difference in raw ability. Is a guy fast? Does he have great leaping ability? Hands? Strength and quickness off the edge? Accuracy?
Those traits can be seen and documented, and it’s important they are.
With success in the transfer portal and on the recruiting trail, Arizona has the appearance of a fairly talented team. Not the most talented, mind you, but certainly good enough to compete on a weekly basis. The Wildcats needed a talent infusion in the worst way, and this is the time for it to start making an impact.