By JAIME HERNANDEZ
In his first year of coaching the University of Arizona football team, head coach Rich Rodriguez led the Wildcats to an 8-5 record, including 4-5 in conference play.
Now the question is, can the Wildcats improve upon last year?
History says no one can really predict. The UA hasn’t had a great history when it comes to football.
The last time the program had any respect was in the early ‘90s under coach Dick Tomey, with his Desert Swarm defense.
Tomey led the Wildcats to their first 10-win season in 1993, and they beat the Miami Hurricanes 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl. They finshed the season ranked sixth.
His best year, though, came in 1998. The Wildcats finished fourth in the country and posted a 12-1 record.
Which brings us to the present. Can Rodriguez bring Arizona back to the national spotlight?
He has his work cut out for him next year. Arizona must replace six starters on the offensive side and four starters on defense.
The offense is the area of most concern. Arizona must replace starting quarterback Matt Scott, the starting fullback and wide receiver, plus three of five starting linemen.
B.J. Denker looks to be the front-runner for the starting quarterback position, but don’t be surprised if true freshman Anu Solomon — the nation’s No. 2-rated quarterback — pushes Denker for the job.
The offensive line will pretty much be all new, which in the football world is never a good thing. The group will need to grow up fast if they want to have any success.
The defense didn’t take as hard a hit. The team lost just one defensive lineman, two linebackers and one cornerback. The Wildcats played with a lot of young talent, and they should only get better next year.
Last year, the defense switched to a 3-3-5 system. They struggled early on, but showed improvement as the season progressed. With the players having another year to be familar with the new system, they should be much improved.
In college football, recent history has shown that a dominant defense wins championships. So even though Rodriguez is best known for his fast-paced offense, it’s his defense that really needs to step up.
Coaches can only do so much. In the end, it comes down to the players. The only way to recruit players is to win.
One winning season won’t do that, but it doesn’t hurt. Rodriguez did it before at West Virginia. He took a program that was at the bottom of the Big East to a national power.
If he continues to put winning seasons together, the players will come.
The sky’s the limit for Arizona. First things first, though. They need to keep winning.
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