Arizona opens against Brigham Young on Vegas on Saturday as the Jedd Fisch era begins.
Fisch is a 24-year career assistant whose career includes stints with the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena League, before moving on to multiple NFL stops. He spent this season as the QB coach for the New England Patriots. Periodically, his career also involved stops at some of the premier college programs in the nation, including UCLA, Miami and Michigan. This is his first head coaching gig.
Arizona fired Kevin Sumlin on Saturday, December 12, the day after a 70-7 beatdown was administered by rival Arizona State for the Wildcats' 12th straight loss. Sumlin's record slouched to 9-20 in 3 seasons and 0-3 against the school's rival. Sumlin never had a losing campaign at Texas A&M, but only topped the .500 mark in SEC games one time. He had only 1 losing year in 4 seasons at Houston. His 2011 Cougars' team was 12-0 before losing to Southern Miss in the Conference USA Championship game. A week later, he resigned to take the A&M job, but was fired by the Aggies after a 7-5 season in year 6.
USA Today’s Paul Myerberg's assessment of the Wildcats equates to the Congrove Computer Rankings projections of a challenging season. The computer pegs Arizona to finish last in the PAC-12 south division and 118th in the nation with a predicted record of 2-10 overall, 0-9 in the conference. The future will look bright through the first three weeks when the 'Cats are exp[ected to pick up victories over San Diego State and Northern Arizona. After that, the well runs dry.
Myerberg reckons Fisch’s thin roster will contribute to what he expects to be a failed season. Senior kicker Lucas Havrisik was the only member of the college’s roster named to a Pac-12 preseason all-conference team, having made it to the All-Pac-12 Second Team.
The team only garnered 41 points from the press in the conference’s preseason poll, the worst score in the conference. The next-best team scored more than twice that, with Colorado earning 88 points.
“For new coach Jedd Fisch, there’s also the challenge of life in the Pac-12 South, which has four teams — Southern California, Utah, UCLA, and Arizona State — capable of finding a home in the Top 25,” he wrote.
The state’s cross-divisional schedule should also prove to be a big test next season. The Wildcats will face off with the top three teams in the Pac-12 North where the preseason polls are concerned.
The Wildcats will begin its Pac-12 schedule on the road against Oregon, the reigning conference champions on September 25th, before playing Washington and California at home in October and November.
Things could be complicated by the fact that there’s an internal battle between quarterbacks Will Plummer, a second-year returner, and redshirt freshman Gunner Cruz, a transfer from Washington State. The QBs will share the spot in the opener against BYU in September but it’s also reported that Cruz is edging Plummer out as the favorite.
As far as predictions go, Myerberg is more kind than the computer as he calls for a 4-8 finish for the Wildcats and, of course, fans can lodge bets at Draftkings Arizona to back their predictions up.
Here's Myerberg's game-by-game predictions:
vs. BYU (in Las Vegas) — W
vs. San Diego State — L
vs NAU — W
at Oregon — L
vs. UCLA — W
at Colorado — L
vs. Washington — L
at USC — L
vs. California — W
vs. Utah — L
at Washington State — L
at Arizona State — L
Some are hopeful over an upset against Arizona State but that’s still a stretch at the moment. However, the new staff could see marked improvement in the early days that could lead to an unlikely victory against State. At the very least, though, the Wildcats should make this a game and have their neighboring opponents feeling like they were in a proper contest by the time it’s all done. Should that be the case, fans will have something to look forward to next term.
The team will have to exude palpable improvement on a game-by-game basis in order to pacify fans. For the next season to be considered successful in any respect, the last game needs to be a whole lot better than the first. It’s expected that Fisch will have a very positive impact on the team and will keep the players on their toes.
The team’s offensive line, in particular, needs to show a level of maturity on the field. As noted above, the quarterback position isn’t yet set in stone and, while questions loom, the coordinators would do well to take pressure off the passers with an effective running game.
Arizona will also need to show great chemistry, focus, and dedication to give its fans a season that will actually make sense, although they aren’t expected to win that many games. They won’t have as much talent as other teams for the next two years and will have to make up for that with heart and determination, something they clearly lacked last year.
While fans will tolerate losses, they won’t forgive a lack of effort. Showing a competitive spirit in all of their games and leaving everything out there will certainly earn the appreciation of the support. They’re going to be outmatched in terms of talent in nearly all of the teams they will have to play this season but they would do well not to dig themselves into holes early and give themselves a shot to win games late on.