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Arizona Wildcats 2017 Preview with Stats!

You can find my preview with the interactive radar chart here:

Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez 6th Season (18-26) Pac-12
Offensive Coordinator: Rodriguez/Calvin Magee/Rod Smith 6th Season
Defensive Coordinator: Marcel Yates 2nd Season
2016 Record: 3-9 Overall, 2-9 FBS, 1-8 Pac-12
2016 Predicted Record: 2-9
2016 Beta_Rank: #105, 12 in Pac-12
2017 Returning Production: #23, 75% (Per Bill Connelly)


Final 2016 Pac-12 Beta_Rank

Rank School Record Pred_Record Beta_Rank O_Rnk O_Score D_Rnk D_Score Spcl_Tm_Rnk Spcl_Tm_Score Sched_Rnk Sched_Strength Record_Rnk Record_Strength
8 Washington 11 - 2 12 - 1 1.7246 14 1.1577 4 -0.50866 55 0.058237 57 0.14029 71 -1.6314
12 USC 10 - 3 10 - 3 1.3537 13 1.1638 28 0.027841 23 0.21779 26 0.35149 11 1.749
26 Washington State 8 - 4 10 - 2 0.75838 22 1.0036 46 0.26476 66 0.019493 61 0.076593 76 -2.124
29 Colorado 9 - 4 7 - 6 0.67868 63 0.40475 7 -0.37237 97 -0.098444 23 0.388 45 -0.58054
33 Stanford 10 - 3 6 - 7 0.60869 80 0.23895 26 0.017707 2 0.38745 36 0.32796 20 0.75315
51 Utah 8 - 4 7 - 5 0.27376 69 0.33861 47 0.27012 25 0.20527 64 0.06525 58 -1.0571
63 Oregon State 3 - 8 4 - 7 0.071647 56 0.48463 58 0.4228 69 0.0098132 47 0.2671 64 -1.3148
70 UCLA 4 - 8 6 - 6 -0.10776 99 0.03221 20 -0.071868 115 -0.21184 59 0.083197 66 -1.4059
73 California 5 - 7 5 - 7 -0.1892 28 0.94391 120 1.2587 38 0.1256 54 0.20278 48 -0.67754
81 Oregon 3 - 8 3 - 8 -0.26398 20 1.0485 122 1.3369 63 0.024455 49 0.25484 59 -1.1213
97 Arizona State 4 - 7 2 - 9 -0.76348 91 0.15008 95 0.91149 73 -0.0020726 50 0.24508 41 -0.44585
105 Arizona 2 - 9 2 - 9 -0.94604 46 0.68807 125 1.3995 118 -0.23451 41 0.28976 68 -1.5401

The 2016 Arizona Wildcats football season was a brutal slog for team and fans alike. Arizona lost half their games by more than 20 points; including losing by 62 to WSU on the road. Arizona regressed in all three phases of the game off their 2015 rankings and finished as the second worst Power 5 team in America, save only Rutgers. The season featured two real surprises in taking Washington to OT at the beginning of conference play and shellacking ASU at the end of the season. In between the Wildcats were blown out in 6/7 games and many people, myself included, wondered if Rodriguez had lost the locker room.

The off-season hasn't been kind either. The once heralded recruiting class dissolved before signing day and 3 assistant coaches left for new jobs. Arizona finished 11th out of 12 in recruiting according to Scout's rankings and squarely in the bottom half of the Power 5 at #46. This is little different, and could be argued to be worse, than a typical Rodriguez class. Given that the staff has shown little aptitude for player development; this is not encouraging for the future.

Rodriguez had to hire 3 new assistant coaches and it would be fair to say that speculation about his job security did not help the hiring process. He hired Theron Aych from a UTEP staff that is probably just as much on the hot seat, Scott Boone who had not been retained when Brian Polian was let go at Nevada, and Brian Knorr who spend last season as an analyst at Ohio State.

The spring "game", or whatever, was a bit of a showcase for Khalil Tate who played well, but as Michael Lev astutely points out: had more of the ones while Dawkins had more of the walk-ons. I would hesitate to take much away in terms of offensive performance for anyone against Arizona's defense.

Rodriguez comes into this season squarely on the hot seat after going 4-14 in the Pac-12 the last two years; a huge fall from 2014 when Arizona won the South. More on that later.

Arizona Offense
2016 Beta_Rank: #46, 6th in Pac-12
Returning Production: #47, 70%, +1.7 PPG (Per Bill Connelly)


Final 2016 Pac-12 Beta_Rank Offense

Rank School O_Score Drive_Eff_Rnk O_Drive_Eff Play_Eff_Rnk O_Play Eff Exp_Rnk O_Exp_Drives Negative_Rnk O_Neg_Drives Sched_Rnk Sched_Strength
13 USC 1.1638 58 0.29758 23 0.1936 15 0.67406 2 -0.0014164 40 0.32394
14 Washington 1.1577 20 0.47387 21 0.19899 12 0.7317 47 -0.24695 64 0.4522
20 Oregon 1.0485 81 0.20531 34 0.176 11 0.7548 8 -0.08763 34 0.28433
22 Washington State 1.0036 9 0.59829 60 0.13803 53 0.40573 15 -0.1384 65 0.45867
28 California 0.94391 17 0.50341 50 0.15294 55 0.38635 10 -0.098793 41 0.32436
46 Arizona 0.68807 97 0.15344 19 0.20211 33 0.51812 20 -0.18561 14 0.18297
56 Oregon State 0.48463 62 0.27969 31 0.18 56 0.38243 75 -0.35799 45 0.34472
63 Colorado 0.40475 30 0.4135 86 0.10457 87 0.25062 78 -0.36395 53 0.38142
69 Utah 0.33861 126 -0.064537 41 0.16359 41 0.45339 34 -0.2138 67 0.47282
80 Stanford 0.23895 127 -0.11223 33 0.18002 44 0.44067 54 -0.2695 59 0.42662
91 Arizona State 0.15008 43 0.35526 112 0.063787 89 0.23115 110 -0.5001 69 0.47707
99 UCLA 0.03221 124 -0.03586 100 0.081505 63 0.35186 81 -0.36529 68 0.47652

Arizona's offense hasn't lived up to Rich Rodriguez's reputation since 2012 where he had Matt Scott and a bunch of Stoops's recruits. In 2015 they managed to finish #27, but still in the middle of the Pac-12. Falling to #46 isn't good news, but with so much production returning they do have a shot to improve in 2017, though a lot of fan perception and record will depend on the defense and special teams not being among the worst units nationally.

Arizona had a few good games in 2016 against Washington, Utah, and ASU; though to be fair ASU's defense was also terrible. Arizona in 2016, was a lot like Arizona in 2015; done in by field position and lack of consistency. Beta_Rank's two most important components are Drive Efficiency and Explosiveness. Arizona ranked #97 in Drive Efficiency, which is to say, they rarely put together long drives or strung together multiple first downs. Arizona ranked #19 in Play Efficiency, which controls for their yards per play rate. Arizona was also pretty explosive #33 and didn't go 3 and out very often #20 in Negative Drives.

If you watched much Arizona last season you could see how this played out on the field. Arizona struggled mightily under the burden of terrible field position, but that is only part of it. The offense failed to execute, but was still extremely dangerous with Dawkins or Tate getting the ball every snap. Part of this is play calling and system. Rodriguez isn't sneaking up on anyone in the Pac-12 anymore and it shows. Arizona was good when Dawkins/Tate were able to generate big plays on the ground, pick up the tempo, force the defense into a zone to keep eyes on the QB, and find receivers in the soft spots. The offense didn't work at all when the defense had time to set itself or when the defense could sit in man and still contain the QB. The receivers are not getting open on their own and the QB's are all holding the ball too long. Running back was decimated by injury last year and that didn't help, but the offensive line was just bad. Good news the RB's are back, but the bad news is that so is much of the line.

2017 should be a little kinder to Arizona. You swap out Stanford (#26) and Washington (#4) for Oregon (#122) and Cal (#120). That should help the offense look a little better on the conventional stat sheet. I don't think it is crazy to expect some improvements for Cal and Oregon given the impressive staffs they have hired, but they should still be bad enough to make Arizona look pretty good on offense.

I'd be surprised to see Dawkins last the entire season at QB given that whomever is back there is going to take a lot of hits, but also because the offense is going to struggle brutally again against competent defenses who get to pin them back with poor starting field position. Rodriguez will be coaching for his job so he'll have a short leash, especially if a game starts to get out of hand at home.

Arizona lost most of its production at receiver and they are especially thin on the outside where they have not recruited well at all. Rodriguez would be smart to get his tight ends more involved, but that talk is as annually regular as it is annually unfulfilled. The line returns 4 starters and 3 seniors (which doesn't bode well for 2018), but that experience is certainly a positive. If the running backs can stay healthy the offense could take a step forward, but without the defense and special teams improving your average fan might not notice it.


Arizona Defense
2016 Beta_Rank: #125, 12th in Pac-12
Returning Production: #17, 79%, -2.6 PPG (Per Bill Connelly)


Final 2016 Pac-12 Beta_Rank Defense

Rank School D_Score Drive_Eff_Rnk D_Drive_Eff Play_Eff_Rnk D_Play Eff Exp_Rnk D_Exp_Drives Negative_Rnk D_Neg_Drives Sched_Rnk Sched_Strength
4 Washington -0.50866 33 0.15734 5 0.029519 5 -0.057265 6 -0.63826 41 0.58171
7 Colorado -0.37237 5 -0.077452 11 0.047403 21 0.13758 20 -0.47991 13 0.73958
20 UCLA -0.071868 82 0.352 17 0.066616 8 -0.0090029 17 -0.48149 49 0.55971
26 Stanford 0.017707 84 0.35831 27 0.084665 10 0.048997 22 -0.47426 16 0.72935
28 USC 0.027841 66 0.29817 84 0.1539 11 0.057021 18 -0.48126 31 0.6484
46 Washington State 0.26476 10 0.04518 72 0.14082 58 0.336 79 -0.25751 52 0.5416
47 Utah 0.27012 53 0.25264 40 0.10913 55 0.2954 36 -0.387 53 0.53807
58 Oregon State 0.4228 30 0.14482 67 0.13706 65 0.38419 87 -0.24328 37 0.61183
95 Arizona State 0.91149 103 0.4896 122 0.24353 96 0.54151 47 -0.3632 12 0.74444
120 California 1.2587 118 0.63941 112 0.20261 110 0.62367 96 -0.2069 51 0.54404
122 Oregon 1.3369 126 0.83402 70 0.1388 100 0.58253 95 -0.2184 46 0.56235
125 Arizona 1.3995 128 0.9525 86 0.15714 87 0.49328 99 -0.20332 62 0.49908

Arizona's defense managed to get even worse in Marcel Yates first year #125 vs. 2015 #108. I don't think you can hang that all on Yates who had a poor hand in terms of talent and whose players had to adjust to a whole new staff, but it won't look good for him if Cal and Oregon improve under similar circumstances.

The defense was very bad at Drive Efficiency #128, Play Efficiency #86, Explosive Drives #87, and Negative Drives #99. It is hard to point to anything that they were good at, but they were extremely bad against the pass; see WSU game. Arizona did not get good pressure on the QB and lacked Power 5 level talent in the defensive backfield. Though to be fair it isn't like Washington and Colorado didn't just line up and run the ball right over Arizona too.

The concern, if you are an Arizona fan, is where the improvement comes from if the team doesn't get better up front. There is some reason for optimism that the defensive backfield improves, but linebacker utterly lacked young players who got game experience last year, and the same is basically true up front. Arizona's scheme, like any 3 man front, depends on pressure getting home from blitzers, but who, other than D'Andre Miller, can even do that?

While the offense wins with Stanford and Washington departing; it is a bit more of a mixed bag for the defense since Oregon and Cal have been very good on offense and bring in talented staffs on the coordinator side; even if they take a step back I would expect both to finish in the top half of the Pac-12 again. Other than ASU and Cal, none of the Pac-12 teams on Arizona's schedule have a real QB controversy and frankly ASU could get a big upgrade with either Wilkins or Barnett getting the ball to their skill position players.

Arizona is likely to be better in 2017, you can't actually get much worse than #125 out of 128, but I am not sure anyone notices the improvement unless the defense has some miracle jump to the 60-70 range. The defense is still going to be bad enough to make winning difficult if they are 70+, but Yates would have worked a small miracle if he gets this defense under #85 by season's end.


Arizona Special Teams
2016 Beta_Rank: #118, 12th in Pac-12
Returning Starters: Josh Pollack

Here is the sneaky culprit of Arizona's decline from being bad in 2015 to terrible in 2016. Arizona went from having a top 25 unit (#21) to one of the worst in the country. When your defense is awful you really need your special teams to make it count when they force a punt or your offense manages to turn bad field position into a field goal opportunity. Arizona's special teams made it worse. They really need 5* kicking recruit Lucas Havrisik to pan out immediately.

2017 Schedule and Outlook

Sat, Sep 2 vs Northern AZ TBD
Sat, Sep 9 vs Houston TBD
Fri, Sep 15 @ UTEP 10:15 PM
Fri, Sep 22
vs
Utah
TBD
Sat, Oct 7
@
Colorado
TBD
Sat, Oct 14
vs
UCLA
TBD
Sat, Oct 21
@
California
TBD
Sat, Oct 28
vs
Washington St
6:00 PM
Sat, Nov 4
@
USC
TBD
Sat, Nov 11
vs
Oregon State
TBD
Sat, Nov 18
@
Oregon
TBD
Sat, Nov 25
@
Arizona State
TBD
All times are in Eastern Time

If you were to call out one of these games as a must win for Rodriguez it is probably the UTEP game. That seems like a low bar, but Arizona isn't likely to be good enough to just show up and beat the Miners on the road and a loss probably gets Rodriguez fired mid-season. There is going to be a lot more weight put on the Houston game the week before since it will be at home and fans will look at it as a measuring stick for the team's improvement. Anything from win to close loss where they play well against Houston probably generates positive momentum around the team, but even the energy from a Houston win dissipates if you lose the next week.

The other key for Rodriguez to keep his job through the end of the season is not getting blown out, especially at home. Arizona wasn't like UCLA last year; unlucky and struggling on one side of the ball, but talented. Arizona was just mostly non-competitive in conference play last year and there is a danger that will be the case again. Outside of the offensive backfield Arizona has not recruited Power 5 level talent under Rodriguez and you can see the team's deterioration as more of his recruits age up and Stoops's recruits age out. When stacked up against the top half of the Pac-12 things are likely to get ugly again this season. I think Arizona can play Utah and Colorado close this year as both teams suffered a bit from graduation and the draft, but UCLA has built a marvelous defense under Tom Bradley and if Rosen is healthy and the offense isn't grossly flaccid then UCLA is going to run up the score if they can; because Jim Mora is that kind of person and he seems to personally not like Rodriguez. WSU at home and then USC on the road have the possibility to get really out of hand. OSU is a team that I think a lot of Arizona fans disdainfully don't pay any attention to, but last years whipping was no fluke. The Beavers are heading in a different direction than Arizona under Gary Anderson and they probably take another step forward this year. It is crucial for Rodriguez not to get blown out three games in a row with two at home.

I am not sanguine about Arizona's chances to make it to a bowl game. Again; they lost 6 of their 9 conference games last year by 20+ points, but if you were to construct a path to bowl eligibility it probably means sweeping the non-conference and then beating Cal, Oregon and ASU. Arizona has inferior talent to all these teams and likely only has a better coaching staff than ASU. Worse though, all these games are on the road. I really like the staffs that Oregon and Cal have put together and while I wouldn't pick them to win the North, I think they will both be touchdown favorites or more against Arizona at home. ASU is a weird animal. They fell off the map on defense last year and had brutal QB injuries and line play, but I have a hard time believing Graham's team is terrible on defense two years in a row. If ASU's line play improves, then they likely keep their QB upright and they have skill position players that are better than any player Arizona has had since Kadeem Carey. That is a lot to go right, but while both teams were bad last year, ASU has just recruited so much better than Arizona has under Rodriguez. I expect ASU is probably favored by a touchdown or more at kickoff.

I don't think the bar for Rodriguez staying at Arizona is necessarily bowl eligibility. He could win 4-5 games and lose the rest pretty close and I think he keeps his job, the key is avoiding blowouts. He can make a case that the team is headed in the right direction with close losses. I don't think that happens though. The defense and special teams fell so far off the map that even big improvements might not show up significantly in the scores and record. Arizona needs to improve, but also catch some luck to save Rodriguez and I think he could luck into a win or two, but you can't beat the numbers all season.



Predicted Record: 4-8, 3-8 FBS, 1-8 Pac-12
Wins: NAU, Houston, UTEP, Cal
Losses: Utah, Colorado, UCLA, WSU, USC, OSU, Oregon, ASU

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