Arizona football all smiles after year two of Rodriguez era
SHREVEPORT, La. — For the first time since 2004, head coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t have a better season on paper than his last, but as the calendar changes from 2013 to 2014, Arizona football is in great shape.
In 2007, he went 10-2 at West Virginia after going 11-2 in 2006, but in 2007 he went to a better bowl – the Fiesta – than the Gator Bowl in 2006.
In 2004, Rodriguez was 8-4 after going 8-5 in 2003, but both years, he went to the Gator Bowl while at West Virginia.
At first glance, Arizona was 8-5 with a bowl win, just like in 2012. But this time, the Wildcats capped the season with a blowout win over a BCS conference foe. Last year, Arizona had an epic comeback, but that was against a newly-minted Mountain West Conference school, not a famous name like Boston College.
“When you beat a top 5 team at home, on senior day, that’s probably a signature win,” Rodriguez said when asked if the AdvoCare V100 Bowl was a signature win. “But is this a big win? Sure it is.”
The Wildcats’ defense dominated a BC offense that featured what the Boston media, according to their questions in the postgame press conference, considers the best running back and receiver in school history.
Andre Williams won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back, and Alex Amidon is BC’s career receiving yards leader.
Arizona held Williams, who had 2.9 yards per carry, to what Sports Illustrated called a “pedestrian outing.”
Amidon had 10 catches for 129 yards but was outshone by UA true freshman receiver Nate Phillips, who had nine catches for 193 yards.
Plus, last year, Arizona had a fifth year senior quarterback and future NFL player in Matt Scott. This year, the Wildcats had to go with B.J. Denker, who wasn’t recruited but has grown in leaps and bounds since August.
In Rodriguez’s two years at Arizona, the Wildcats have beaten then No. 18 Oklahoma State, tied eventual Rose Bowl champion Stanford after regulation on The Farm, beat then No. 9 USC, won two bowl games and beat then No. 5 Oregon.
Arizona won eight games in 2012 and 2013. The Wildcats have only won eight or more games 10 times in their history since joining the Pac-10/12 Conference.
Rodriguez is also 8-0 against nonconference foes. While this year’s 3-0 start to the regular season didn’t seem impressive at the time, UNLV and UTSA both won seven games and the Rebels made it to a bowl game.
Remember, Arizona lost 10 games in a row to FBS teams in 2010-2011 and went 4-8 in 2011.
The UA has won 16 games the last two years with rosters that were lacking due to years of poor recruiting. That’s changing, though; Rodriguez said they shut down Williams with constant substitutions, something that was wasn’t possible last year.
According to 247Sports, Arizona currently has the best 2014 recruiting class in the Pac-12. Rivals and Scout have the Wildcats in second.
Meanwhile, Michigan, which fired Rodriguez, has been getting worse: 11-2 in 2011, to 8-5 in 2012, to 7-6 this season. Wolverine head coach Brady Hoke is running out of Rich Rod’s players.
Next season, the Wildcats’ receiving corps will feature Phillips and a couple of other impressive freshmen in Samajie Grant and Trey Griffey, the return of the injured and NFL-caliber Austin Hill and transfers from Notre Dame and Texas.
No matter who Denker’s replacement is, he will have weapons.
There’s even a chance Arizona’s biggest weapon Ka’Deem Carey could turn down the NFL and return for his senior season.
“I think he’s the best running back in the country,” Rodriguez said, “and he’s still got some things to learn. So, another year, he’d be just right.”
Rodriguez and Carey both smiled when he said that.
It’s happy days for Arizona football, and it looks like the Wildcats will soon be playing in January bowl games.
—Follow James Kelley @jameskelley520