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Things bottomed out pretty quickly for Arizona, but the Wildcats appear to have some new life under new head coach Jedd Fisch. Still, expect some growing pains in 2021.
Arizona last won a game on Oct. 5, 2019. At the time, the Wildcats were 4-1 in their second season under Kevin Sumlin and looked like a team that would get to a bowl game or even compete for a Pac-12 South title. Instead, things went in the complete opposite direction.
Arizona lost its final seven games, all by double-digits, to finish 4-8. The struggles continued into the 2020 season, an 0-5 campaign that culminated with a brutal 70-7 loss to rival Arizona State. Sumlin could not come back from that and was quickly fired, and the well-traveled Fisch came into the equation.
Fisch has been an offensive assistant for seven NFL teams and at five different Power Five schools. Most recently, he was the quarterbacks coach of the New England Patriots. Now he is a first-time head coach and inherits a pretty significant rebuild.
The oddsmakers at BetMGM aren’t expecting much from the Wildcats in 2021. Arizona’s preseason win total is set at just 2.5 wins with the over set at -125 and the under at +105.
What you should know about Arizona
To start the season Fisch said he will use two quarterbacks: Will Plummer and Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz. Plummer got thrown into the fire last year as a true freshman. He showed some flashes, but he mostly struggled. Cruz spent two seasons at WSU but didn’t play much.
The other players to know on offense are RB Michael Wiley and WR Stanley Berryhill. Fisch also could rely on his tight ends to make some plays in the passing game.
Defensively, Fisch hired Don Brown as his defensive coordinator. Brown was the longtime DC for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, but Harbaugh moved on from Brown after a rough 2020 season and some horrid performances against the top teams in the Big Ten. The defense is going to rely on a bunch of transfers, especially at linebacker. The strength of the unit is the secondary, which returns three starters. Christian Roland-Wallace is the best of the bunch at corner.
Can Arizona get to 3 wins?
Can the Wildcats get to three wins? If they do, it’s going to take multiple upsets. Other than a Week 3 game against FCS Northern Arizona, the Wildcats will likely be the underdog in every other game they play this season.
Things start on Saturday night with a game against BYU in Las Vegas. BYU is a 12.5-point favorite at BetMGM. In Week 2, Arizona hosts San Diego State before NAU visits.
The SDSU game is winnable. BYU will be much tougher. If Arizona can take care of Northern Arizona and split the SDSU and BYU games, all you need is one Pac-12 win to hit the over.
The home-road splits in conference play look like this: UCLA, Washington, Cal and Utah at home and Oregon, Colorado, USC, Washington State and Arizona State on the road.
That’s five road games and four home games, and one of those home games is against Washington — one of the top teams in the Pac-12 North. So which of those games are winnable for the Wildcats?
There are three I’ve got circled: Colorado, Cal and Washington State. Of those three, I think Colorado is the most susceptible due to their inexperience at quarterback. And if Fisch gets the offense rolling by the time November rolls around, Washington State gives up points in bunches in recent years.