Two seasons after shocking the Pac-12 conference by winning the South division and making it to the Fiesta Bowl, the Arizona Wildcats stumbled, and at times literally limped, to a 3-9 record this year.
The season got off to as solemn a start as possible with the tragic and untimely death of senior offensive lineman Zach Hemmila weeks before the season began. A team that had its heart ripped out before its season could even begin eventually went 11 games before finding some semblance of passion for the game in dominating their rival by 21 points in the season finale. They won 1 single conference game, finishing last in their division and their conference.
After coming out of the gates with a disappointing non-conference record of 2-1, the Wildcats inexplicably dropped 8 straight games. Even more disheartening was the fact that the team was getting blown out in the 8 losses, losing by more than 20 points in 6 of the 8 losses. The team was hardly competitive in any of its conference games besides a still shocking 7 point overtime defeat to Washington and a 21 point defeat of Arizona State in the Territorial Cup. In the aforementioned thrashing of the Sun Devils, a team with one of the worst pass defenses in the country, the Wildcats accounted for over 500 yards on the ground while only throwing the ball 8 times. It was a truly unexpected performance for anyone who had watched Arizona over the past two months.
While a win over “the team up north” is always the most important single game outcome of every season, the Wildcats still undeniably took a big step back from last year. Injuries and disciplinary issues decimated the backfield depth. The defense was plagued by youth and inconsistency. The Wildcats ended the season with more questions than when it began. Can Brandon Dawkins be the starting quarterback next year? Should he be? If so, what do they do with Anu Solomon, Khalil Tate, and incoming freshman Braxton Burmeister? Is JJ Taylor the next star running back at the U of A, or just a flash in the pan? How will they replace their receiving corps? Will another year under newly installed defensive coordinator Marcel Yates help get the defensive back to at least respectable? All these questions and more are what Rich Rodriguez has to figure out over the next 9 months.
For a team and fanbase that has always dreamed of a single Rose Bowl appearance, it has always been “maybe next year”. The Wildcats have never truly experienced sustained success in football. If they want to do so, it all starts with one successful season. The Wildcats can only hope and prepare as if that will be next year. Rich Rodriguez’s best recruiting class during his time in Tucson is expected to come into town. Young players will have gained invaluable experience from this past year and a full offseason of workouts. Sometimes, all their really is is hope. You never know, maybe next year.