UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. — Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez acknowledged he had never been to Tucson before arriving there for his introductory press conference last November.
It didn't matter. He was sold on the place without making a prior visit. Rodriguez credits Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne and former Wildcat head coaches Mike Stoops and Dick Tomey for telling him all he needed to know before taking the job.
After spending a year as a football analyst for CBS Sports — following head-coaching stints at Michigan (2008-10) and West Virginia (2001-07) — Rodriguez was eager to get back on the sidelines.
Arizona, Rodriguez explained, represented a great opportunity. It was a situation he just couldn't pass up, even without checking things out in person beforehand.
"I wanted to jump into someplace that I thought could be special and you could build a championship program," Rodriguez said before adding the importance of being a good place to raise a family with a great environment. "I think all of that was met at the U of A."
Construction of a $72 million football facility was another variable. So, too, was the opportunity to join forces with players, a town and a university hungry for success.
"It's going to be great to compete for championships each and every year and we can do that at U of A," Rodriguez added.
Time will tell if Arizona achieves the success Rodriguez had at West Virginia. The Mountaineers posted a 60-26 record during his seven-year tenure at the helm. They went bowling six times and won four Big East Conference championships.
That kind of success didn't accompany Rodriguez to Michigan, however. Over three seasons with the Wolverines, his teams went 15-22 overall.
Now, after a one-year break from coaching, Rodriguez is ready to get back after it.
"I'm ready to get back on the sidelines," he said.
OFFENSE: Arizona will utilize a spread-option scheme under Rodriguez. The switch should be made easier by the return of all five starters on the offensive line, including 6-foot-8 tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele. Senior halfback Taimi Tutogi is also back. Fifth-year senior Matt Scott replaces Nick Foles as the starting quarterback. He's 5-1 in his career as a starter.
DEFENSE: There's an overhaul taking place as the Wildcats move from a 4-3 alignment to a 3-3-5 "odd stack." Things can hardly get worse than last season when Arizona gave up 460.5 yards and 35.4 points per game. Junior linebacker Jake Fischer is back after missing last season with a knee injury. He made 58 tackles as a sophomore.
SPECIAL TEAMS: An area of emphasis for Rodriguez. Kicker John Bonano and punter Kyle Dugandzic are seniors of note. Bonano made eight field goals and all 24 of his PATs last season, while Dugandzic led the Pac-12 with 46 yards per punt.
PLAYMAKERS: Sophomore Ka'Deem Carey is a hometown product poised to become the "Terror of Tucson" for opposing teams. He netted 425 yards on 91 carries in 2011 and scored a team-high six rushing touchdowns. Senior receiver Dan Buckner had 10 catches against Oklahoma State last season.
TOUGH STRETCH: Although the Wildcats have a favorable schedule with eight home games, there are some challenges including road dates at Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and Utah. The most difficult stretch may be in October when the Wildcats take on the Cardinal, Washington and USC.
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