CULVER CITY, Calif. — Good things certainly outweighed the bad in Rich Rodriguez’s first season at Arizona. Inheriting a program that went 4-8 the year before his arrival, Rodriguez guided the Wildcats to an 8-5 record and a 49-48 New Mexico Bowl victory over Nevada in his inaugural campaign at the helm.
Among other positives was a 59-38 win over nationally ranked Oklahoma State early in the season. A 54-48 overtime loss at eventual Pac-12 champion Stanford was also indicative of improvement. So, too, was the school-record 6,840 yards of total offense the Wildcats racked up by season’s end.
On the negative side, there were lopsided losses to Oregon (49-0) and UCLA (66-10). Then there was the disappointing 41-34 setback to rival Arizona State in the Territorial Cup.
All things considered, however, there’s growing optimism in Tucson, Ariz. — especially with completion of a new $74 million football facility and renovations to Arizona Stadium.
As such, Rodriguez acknowledged that he’s excited about his second season at Arizona as the coaching staff continues to make the transition.
“I thought we learned a lot about our team, about what we need to do moving forward. We’ve got a great group of young men in our program, a lot of fun to coach,” said Rodriguez, who noted that the Wildcats have some outstanding seniors from last season to replace. “I like this team. I like their attitude. I like what’s being built at the University of Arizona.”
The Wildcats have a favorable nonconference schedule — featuring Northern Arizona, UNLV and UTSA — that should get them off to a 3-0 start before Pac-12 play opens with road games at Washington and USC prior to a home date with Utah.
OFFENSE: Junior running back Ka’Deem Carey ran for 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns a year ago. The odds of another big season are enhanced by the return of 6-foot-8 junior tackles Mickey Baucus and Fabbians Ebbele, who weigh a combined 614 pounds. The biggest question mark is replacing quarterback Matt Scott.
DEFENSE: Experience won’t be a problem with all 11 starters returning for the Wildcats. Senior linebackers Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, who had 119 and 100 tackles last season, respectively, headline the returnees. Other standouts include junior cornerback Shaquille Richardson and junior safety Jared Tevis.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Graduation has left Arizona looking for a new kicker and punter this season. Senior cornerback Richard Morrison is back after averaging 10.2 yards on punt returns in 2012.
EXTRA POINTS: A FieldTurf CoolPlay surface, which can lower the temperature of the field by as many as 15 degrees, has been installed at Arizona Stadium. Chairback seats and premium seating in the north end of the facility has left capacity at 56,037. ... Notre Dame wide receiver/punt returner Davonte Neal and Texas quarterback Connor Brewer transferred to Arizona in the offseason. ... Top receiver Austin Hill suffered an ACL injury in spring ball.