- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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ARIZONA (8-5, 4-5)
MVP: Former Wildcats coach Mike Stoops ended up doing new coach Rich Rodriguez a great favor when he opted to redshirt QB Matt Scott in 2011. Scott proved to be the perfect leader for a Rodriguez offense, which is at its best with a dual-threat QB. Scott earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors as the Wildcats triggerman, ranking sixth in the nation in total offense with 343.83 yards per game. He led the Pac-12 in passing with 301.7 yards per game with 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He was the Wildcats' second-leading rusher with 506 yards and six touchdowns.
What went right: The Wildcats far exceeded expectations in Rodriguez's first season after going 4-8 and 2-7 in the Pac-12 in 2011. Despite a defense decidedly lacking talent, particularly the front seven, the Wildcats posted quality wins over Toledo (don't forget the Rockets went 9-4), Oklahoma State, Washington and USC. They pushed Stanford to the brink in overtime and won a bowl game. The offensive numbers were fantastic: 38.2 points and 526.2 yards per game. Running back Ka'Deem Carey led the nation with 148.38 yards per game, and receiver Austin Hill ranked second in the conference and seventh in the nation with 104.92 yards receiving per game. Carey was a consensus All-American, while Hill earned second-team all-conference honors.
What went wrong: The Wildcats' season would have been considered a major success if not for the Territorial Cup loss -- at home -- to Arizona State and its first-year coach Todd Graham. That hurt because rivalry-game losses always hurt, but it hurt doubly because both teams were breaking in new coaches and now the Sun Devils can claim to be ahead of the Wildcats in the state and Pac-12 pecking order. Further, the Wildcats blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead, yielding 24 consecutive points. There were other bad moments. The Wildcats brought a 3-0 record and a national ranking to Oregon on Sept. 22 but left Eugene as 49-zip losers. There were plenty of "what ifs" in close losses to Oregon State and Stanford. Arizona followed its impressive win over USC with an egregious 66-10 loss at UCLA. Finally, the defense was terrible, yielding 35.3 points and 499 yards per game, the yardage total ranking last in the Pac-12 and 118th in the nation.
Outlook for 2013: The Wildcats welcome back six starters on offense and 11 on defense. In fact, 21 of 22 players on the final two-deep, defensive depth chart return in 2013. That's good news and bad news. The defense was terrible a year ago, but you'd think that experience would mean improvement this season, in terms of physical maturity as well as maturity in the system. That said, the lack of impact players, particularly on the line, is going to be an issue in 2013. That means coordinator Jeff Casteel again will be forced to take more chances with blitzes and stunts than he wants to. On offense, replacing Scott is the priority, with 2012 backup B.J. Denker and USC transfer Jesse Scroggins battling it out this spring, and freshman Anu Solomon joining the fray in the fall. Hill and Carey are both back, as is a good core on the offensive line. If the QB can come through, there's a good supporting cast. The nonconference schedule sets up for a 3-0 start, but consecutive road games to start the Pac-12 schedule at Washington and USC should be telling. It's possible the Wildcats will take a step back in Year 2 under Rodriguez, but better than expected QB play could change that.
2dChantel Jennings and Ted Miller