Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
The Arizona Wildcats will begin the Rich Rodriguez era against the Toledo Rockets on Saturday night. Rodriguez looks to get a fresh start and shake the critics of his time in Michigan.
Year one of what would turn out to be a tumultuous three-year stint in Ann Arbor included a 10-13 loss to the Toledo Rockets. The loss dropped Rich Rodriguez's Wolverines to 2-4, en route to 3-9 season in 2008. En route to a swift farewell and a scarlet "F" for failure.
It's a fate the tarnished coach hopes not to recreate.
Rodriguez finds himself in a new beginning following a journey to the southwest with an opportunity to exact revenge on a team that dented his West Virginia-built armor and - perhaps more significantly - revenge upon the army of critics built whilst donning the maize and blue.
Yes, RichRod takes to the field Saturday night with an underwhelming crew and a full chip on his shoulder. His team is dedicated to a new system, the revamped program, and their rejuvenated coach. Expectations are high in the desert and optimistically so.
After all, the Wildcats will have the right kind of quarterback for their system (Matt Scott can move and toss), a prolific backfield athlete capable of big things (Ka'deem Carey plays at a different level than the other kids), some defensive pieces that should compete (Adam Hall and Jake Fischer), and the aforementioned rejuvenated spirit of a program that has beaten just three of their last sixteen FBS opponents.
And it all begins against that same school - the Toledo Rockets - that beat the RichRod lead Wolverines in October of 2008.
As season - if not tenure - openers go, this one won't be a particularly easy one. For all of the positives we could dig up about these Wildcats, they are not going to be particularly fantastic. Like I said, there are pieces, but on the whole they resemble a team that has, well, beaten just three of their last sixteen FBS opponents.
First of the Wildcat issues will be containing a two-headed quarterback monster with their rebuilt defense. The Rockets return QBs Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens, who combined to lead the eighth highest scoring offense in FBS last season (42.2ppg). Worth noting, however, is the loss of the 1700+ ground yards from Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams as well as the 125 receptions of Eric Page.
Aerially replacing Page will be Bernard Reedy who was the team's second leading receiver a year ago, including nine touchdowns. On the ground it will likely be David Fluellen doing the replacing. The junior rushed for nearly 500 yards a season ago.
So while the Rockets have experience you may want at positions you want it at, namely quarterback, they'll need some emerging talent to maintain such a prolific offense. They'll also need something, anything, to emerge on the defensive side as they return just four players from a defense that yielded the 76th most yards per game in the nation.
Toledo will not prove to be big or intimidating. They sport a new coach and they're not about to wow or beat anyone before the field is taken. But with everything surrounding the rebuilding Wildcat program and the rebuilding Rodriguez reputation, it can't quite be overstated what this game means to a lot of people. The scarlet "F" of failure hasn't sat well with the beleaguered coach and Saturday night represent far more than a Pac12-MAC battle.
This represents the beginning of an era, page one of a blank book awaiting inscription in Wildcat lore.