Both Arizona schools, erm, State of Arizona schools? Both Copper State schools have lofty expectations for this season, considering some huge success in 2013. Arizona, with a home blowout of Oregon, showed just how big their upside is. Arizona State ended the regular season #1 in ESPN's Football Power Index and reached the PAC-12 Championship game, but was unable to overcome the Cardinal.
Now it's 2014, and both teams have huge changes on opposite sides of the ball. What can we expect to see during Thursday and Friday's Opening Games?
Anu Hope? (Sorry, had to be done)
It's Official- The starting Quarterback for the 2014 Arizona Wildcats is Redshirt-Freshman Jarrett 'Anu' Solomon. This Bishop Gorman product has just barely outperformed Senior Jesse Scroggins by being very patient with the ball and limiting costly mistakes. There is no doubt we will see Scroggins at some point during the season, but I'm predicting it will be as a clock waster during a blowout victory rather than a straight replacement.
There is also talk at the Arizona Daily Star about special plays featuring Jerrard Randall being a very big possibility, as what they saw at numerous scrimmages. It doesn't seem like Solomon has a long leash, they may go to Scroggins at multiple points during Arizona's first three non-conference games if Solomon can't connect with his Wide Receivers. It's really tough to say what Rich Rod has in mind, because he might as easily well stick with Solomon full-time to quickly develop him.
That is how many rushing yards Arizona lost this past offseason. And they are retaining......127. Terris Jones-Grigsby with UNLV-transfer Adonis Smith will be sharing the load at the opener against aforementioned UNLV, and an appearance by 4-star true freshman Nick Wilson also a possibility. Also look for Solomon to add to the total, as he was listed as his recruiting class's 2nd best Dual-threat QB. Problem is, I never saw Solomon actually scramble and run this Fall, if he did it was a going-through-the-motions style. Anyway, this new Running Corps will have plenty of help with Arizona's strong and talented returning Offensive Line, so it is hard to be worried about proficiency.
Do NOT sleep on the Wildcats
Arizona's returning receivers and o-line may make Solomon's introduction to the college football a declaration of....intention to the rest of the Pac-12: The South title is surprisingly in their reach. The Wildcats strong showing last year vs the Bruins suddenly make them a dangerous opponent even in the Rose Bowl, and USC was only able to win by seven in the Coliseum. This may have just been Kiffin hangover, but I fully believe a Wildcat upset will happen vs a SoCal team in 2014. Of course these first three game will be a huge test of their mettle.
What to Watch For:
- Special Teams are going to be.....bad. Headache-inducing for Wildcat fans. 106th in the NCAA last year is the "benchmark"
- Arizona's Secondary is going to be fun to watch. They may have trouble tackling, but they'll take advantage of miscues very easily
- Jeff Worthy leads a very impressive D-Line that had great Fall Practices. Strong, and quick to get off the line
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS
Hold the Line
Coleman, Conway, and Sutton gone. Behind them, Chris Young and Carl Bradford also gone. Pass Rush and harrassment was a big part of Arizona State's defensive doctrine and now they have a brand new squad to try and achieve that objective. Don't expect Run Defense to suffer, as the size difference hasn't changed too much and ASU is about average in that respect. Camp has been rough for the new blood, and we will have to wait for the results
Taylor Kelly, Jaelen Strong, and DJ Foster are back. That gives Sun Devil fans good vibes about this season. Unfortunately they are going to need a good deal of help when it comes to Wide Recievers. Gary Chambers, Ellis Jefferson, Fredrick Gammage, and Eric Lauderdale all seem about level ability-wise, so it will be plug-and-play to see what works with Kelly. Also, Kelly overthrew receivers in passes over 30 yards in scrimmages quite a bit, which means we may not see as many deep bombs as last year. Behind Kelly, Senior Deantre Lewis will see quite a bit of action in these upcoming games, as will true freshman RB Kalen Ballage; Ballage had a fantastic Fall and has been flashing catches like Jaelen Strong... not kidding- Gary Chamber's father sitting in front of me at Camp Tontozona mistook Ballage for Strong after a one-handed grab.
Search and Destroy
ASU's Secondary, led by Senior Demarious Randall, will be forced to grow up rather quickly. Darby, Nelson, Irabor are all gone, along with their 13 picks and 23 passes defensed. Searching for their replacements has produced very good results: Soloman Means is the starting Field Corner and Armand Perry has shown he can play corner just as well as returning Junior Lloyd Carrington, and the Jordan Simone has been fighting with Marcus Ball at the BS position. Look for Ball to start, even though he was in a no-contact green jersey half of camp. Linebacking has been solidified as of late with Salamo Fiso, Laiu Moeakiola, D.J. Calhoun, and Edmond Boateng as primary starters, with Jaxon Hood, Tashon Smallwood and Marcus Hardison on the line in front.
What to Watch For:
- De'Marieya Nelson, Devilbacker and Tight End. Does both well. Does both really well.
- Christian Westermann, Left Guard. Strong. REALLY strong
- Dan Vear, Tight End. 4th on the depth chart, but this walk-on has serious potential to be the next Chris Coyle.
How are they going to do this first game?
Weber State @ Arizona State - Thursday 8/28 7:30 PST (PAC-12 Network)
Look for Arizona State to trounce Weber State by more than 50. The (Weber)Wildcats are turnover prone and are coming off of a 2-10 FBS season. They lost to Utah 70-7 last year, so expect a similar scoreline. Nothing else to say past that.
UNLV @ Arizona - Friday 8/29 7:30 PST (ESPN)
Arizona, meanwhile played at UNLV last year and defeated them comfortably 58-13. Rebels QB Nick Sherry was 6 for 22 in that game, and lost his job soon thereafter. He has another chance this year with some great WR talent, but Arizona will lock down any chance at a running game which will force some poor throws. Arizona should win by about 35.
Not the most interesting starting games, especially with Wazzu/Rutgers and Colorado/Colorado State taking place those days respectively, but nonetheless a preseason game of sorts for these two teams. Here's to a perfect 12-0 Week 1 for the Pac-12!