Aug 29, 2022 - Sports

Struggling Wildcats may have cause for optimism

Arizona Wildcats football head coach Jedd Fisch looks on after losing a game
Arizona head football coach Jedd Fisch. Photo: Michael Owens/Getty Images

Bear down, Wildcats! Low expectations are nothing new for UofA football, and the past few seasons have set the bar exceptionally low, but there may be reason for at least a little optimism in the Old Pueblo.

State of play: Most projections have UofA finishing near the bottom of the Pac-12 this year, with Colorado perhaps being the only team that will keep the Cats out of last place, which is where they finished last season.

  • The Wildcats are coming off what must be the worst two-year stretch in program history, testing the boundaries of UofA's "just wait until basketball season" mentality.
  • Since starting the 2019 season 4-1 in Kevin Sumlin's second year as head coach, the Cats have gone 1-23, losing 20 straight before beating Cal last season.

Yes, but: Second-year head coach Jedd Fisch has assembled one of the top recruiting classes in the Pac-12 — Rivals.com ranks UofA's recruiting class as the best in the conference.

  • Arizona's recruiting class is headlined by wideout Tetairoa McMillan, who passed up Oregon to come to Tucson and join a young but talented receiver corps.
  • Washington State quarterback Jayden de Laura, last year's Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year, transferred to UofA during the offseason, which should help stabilize the team's QB carousel from last year.

Meanwhile: UofA's defense was a lot better than its offense last year — the 372.4 yards per game they gave up ranked fifth in the Pac-12 — and things might be looking better on that side of the ball this season.

Nothing comes easy for UofA football, and that likely won't change on Saturday when they hit the road for their season opener against San Diego State University.

  • The game will be SDSU's first in newly completed Snapdragon Stadium, so the Aztecs will be fired up for a win.
  • Arizona's non-conference schedule doesn't get any easier after that, with a road game against Mississippi State in week two, followed by a home game against defending FCS champion North Dakota State, which has won nine titles in the past 11 seasons.

The big picture: The Cats have a long way to go and Fisch has his work cut out for him rebuilding a shattered program, but there's reason to stay positive.

🐻 ⬇️ Jeremy here: I attended the Wildcats' home opener my freshman year in 1998, when UofA thumped Iowa on its way to a 12-1 season and a Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska, and I've been waiting ever since to see a season with that kind of success.

  • I'm a stereotypical "but we're a basketball school" UofA fan, but I'm excited to see what kind of progress the team makes this year.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say the 2019 season was Kevin Sumlin's second year as head coach, not his first.

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