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Arizona football training camp: With no ‘wonder’ left, Wildcats can focus on final Pac-12 season

arizona-wildcats-football-bowl-eligibility-prediction-analysis-2023-nau Arizona Athletics

Jedd Fisch was not scheduled to speak to reporters after Sunday’s practice, his next time in front of the mic set to come next weekend after Arizona held its first of two preseason scrimmages. But that plan was put together before training camp began, when the UA was still only rumored to be a potential target of the Big 12 and not one of its four new members in 2024.

School president Robert Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke are holding a press conference to discuss the sudden move on Monday, while Fisch got his chance to weigh in on the change a day early.

His reaction? A mix of resignation, melancholy and hopefulness.

“It was the only move at this point in time,” he said. “I think it’s what was needed at the time, when we found out about the changes that other programs are making and the decisions that other programs were having. “And with that being the case now, we have a chance to really focus in on today. We don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen next. Where are we going to go? We know where we’re going to be, we know what’s going to happen come the end of the football season. So our focus right now is on the Pac-12.

“I think it would have been much more concerning (for this season) if we didn’t know, if there was this wonder (of) what’s next. There’s not that wonder.”

Fisch said Arizona loved being in the Pac-12, with playing schools in California and along the Pacific coast being one of the biggest appeals to being in that conference.

“But as those schools on the west coast were no longer in the Pac-12, it made things more difficult and challenging for all aspects of the game,” Fisch said. “I love the idea of bringing our West Coast team east.”

Arizona was front in center in all Big 12/Pac-12 realignment discussions since Colorado got the carousel moving again just over a week ago, and that brought a lot of attention to a football team (and an athletic department as a whole) that might not have been that well known nationally beyond men’s basketball and maybe softball.

“More people on the East Coast heard about Arizona over the course of the last two weeks than they have in a very long time,” Fisch said. “More people in Texas continue to hear about Arizona. We all saw the importance of what Arizona was going to do, that was what everybody seemed to be waiting on for a long time. The reason why they were doing that is because of the strength of the block A.”

As much as Fisch wants to turn his full attention to the 2023 season, which begins Sept. 2 against NAU at Arizona Stadium, there are several things to consider now about 2024 and beyond. Most notably, recruiting and scheduling.

Arizona already has 20 known commitments in its 2024 class, most recently 3-star California athlete Chance Harrison, who came on board on Saturday. Only two of them are from “Big 12 country,” that being Texas prospects Eduwa Okundaye and Jaedon Langley. Another 11 are from the West Coast, including nine from California.

Fisch said Arizona’s conference move allows it to recruit nationally, but Southern California will remain one of its most important areas regularly of the league it’s in.

“We’re never going to not recruit Southern California, that is a baby of ours,” he said. “And as long as I’m the head coach here, we are going to dig deep into Southern California and do everything we possibly can. And you know what? It’s a lot shorter flight from LA to Houston than LA to Newark Airport.”

(In case you didn’t pick that up, that was a dig against Big Ten-bound Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington, all of whom will end up playing games at some point at Rutgers in New Jersey)

As for scheduling, as it stands the UA won’t play a game in California next season. That last happened in 1988 when it hosted Cal, UCLA and USC and didn’t play Stanford. The Wildcats also won’t play in either Oregon or Washington for the first time since 1978, the year they joined the Pac-12.

Fisch said he “absolutely” wants to try to play games out west, and that may mean taking advantage of some nonconference openings that joining the Big 12 has created. Arizona was set to start a home-and-home series with Kansas State in 2024, as well as one with BYU in 2026, and also has a 2032 game on tap at Texas Tech.

“Now we have opportunities that have opened up, that we can continue to find ways to play west, and we’re going to do that,” Fisch said.