Arizona faces nation's top defensive player, two AP preseason top 25 teams in 2018

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Heather Newberry | The Daily Wildcat Arizona football players line up and rock back and forth at the start of the UA-ASU rivalry game on Nov. 25 at Sun Devil Stadium.

Arizona football’s schedule in 2018 will include seven home games and five road games.  The season is highlighted by a matchup on September 8 at the University of Houston, featuring defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Arizona will also play two ranked opponents in the AP preseason poll, as No. 15 University of Southern California and No. 24 Oregon both come to Tucson. 

Here’s a closer look at each opponent this Fall:

September 1- vs Brigham Young University

Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)

Key Returner: Quarterback Tanner Mangum

BYU is coming off a disappointing 4-9 season in which four different quarterbacks saw playing time and caused head coach Kalani Sitake to bring in six new assistants. Senior QB Tanner Mangum threw for nearly 3,400 yards in 2015, but injuries have hindered his playing time and performance the last two seasons. Regardless, Mangum was named the starting QB for the Cougars. His backups combined to complete just over 50 percent of their passes last season, which was part of the reason the Cougars finished 118th in total offense.

RELATED: Staff predictions on Arizona football's season

September 8 - @ University of Houston 

Returning Starters: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense)

Key Returner: Defensive tackle Ed Oliver

Ed Oliver was recently quoted in a piece for Sports Illustrated about why he chose to declare for the NFL Draft so early.

“I don’t want to get (asked) after the game, ‘so now are you thinking about going?’ “I want it to be because I gave Khalil Tate a nightmare,” Oliver told SI. While Oliver is the name to know, Houston does return QB D’Eriq King, who played as both a receiver and QB and lead the team in passing yards and rushing touchdowns.



September 15 - vs Southern Utah University

Returning Starters: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense)

Key Returner: The offensive line

Southern Utah is an FCS school that won the Big Sky Conference last season with a 9-3 record. They didn’t fare well last season against a Pac-12 opponent, losing 77-21 to Oregon to open the season. The offense was 20th in the FCS in points per game at just under 34, and is bolstered by the offensive line, as five of the Thunderbird lineman made an All-Big Sky team, led by first team center Zach Larsen.

September 22 - @ Oregon State University

Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 8 defense)

Key Returner: Safety Jalen Moore

First year head coach and former Beaver QB Jonathan Smith inherits a 1-11 team that struggled with injuries and youth last season. Jalen Moore was the second leading tackler on the team last season, and returns along with David Morris to form a solid back end to the secondary. Smith made changes in the staff with the hiring of former Oregon State HC Mike Riley as an assistant, as well as a new offensive and defensive coordinator.

RELATED: Key contributors by class for UA football in 2018

September 29 - vs University of Southern California

Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense,  6 defense)

Key Returner: Linebacker Cameron Smith

Ranked at No. 15 in the AP preseason poll, USC is coming off an 11-3 season that ended in a 24-7 loss at the Cotton Bowl against Ohio State. The QB situation will be key for USC, as three players will have the shot at replacing Sam Darnold. True freshman JT Daniels is a contender for the position after an impressive high school career at California powerhouse Mater Dei that saw him throw for over 12,000 yards. Cameron Smith will be the key on defense, as the preseason second-team AP All-American had 112 tackles last season, including 11 for a loss. If there is a game that could determine how far the Wildcats go this season, this could be it. 


Rebecca Noble

Members of the USC Trojans marching band celebrate after a 38-30 win at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 2015.


October 6 - University of California, Berkeley

Returning Starters: 18 (10 offense, 8 defense)

Key Returner: Quarterback Ross Bowers

Justin Wilcox was 5-7 in his first season as the head coach of the Golden Bears. Cal started 3-0 but lost the next three games by a combined total of seven points, including the double-overtime thriller against Arizona last season. Cal returns last season's starting QB, Ross Bowers, a top running back in Patrick Laird, and most of the receiving core. In fact, the Golden Bears as a whole return more starters than all but three teams in college football, but the play of Bowers in his second season with most of his offense returning will be key in getting Cal to improve.

October 12 - @ University of Utah

Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

Key Returner: Running back Zack Moss

The Utes got off to a 4-0 start that saw them nationally ranked last season, only to lose the next four games and drop out of the Pac-12 race. They were still able to finish the season 7-6 and win a bowl game, but with most of the key pieces back this season, which version of Utah will show up this season? QB Tyler Huntley and RB Zack Moss return to form a formidable backfield, with Huntley returning for his Junior year and Moss leading the team in rushing yards last season. Second team All-Pac-12  and Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP defensive back Julian Blackmon also returns this season.

October 20 - @ University of California, Los Angeles

Returning Starters: 12 (5 offense, 7 defense)

Key Returner: Offensive lineman Andre James

The Chip Kelly era has begun in Westwood. The former Oregon and NFL head coach brings his up-tempo offense back to the Pac-12, where the question is who will start for him under center. Devon Modster is the only returning QB with experience at UCLA, but freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson has the ideal qualities of a dual-threat QB for the offense Kelly runs. Throwing a wrench into everything is Michigan graduate transfer Wilton Speight, a former third team All Big-10 QB, but has also lost games to injury. Andre James is a top returning lineman, and the junior will be switching from right to left tackle, a key position in making sure whoever starts the season at QB is well-protected. 


Simon Asher
Arizona's DJ Hinton scores a touchdown against UCLA during the UA-UCLA game on Saturday, October 14.


October 27- vs University of Oregon

Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)

Key Returner: Quarterback Justin Herbert

The No. 24 ranked Ducks introduce first year head coach Mario Cristobal who inherits a team that went 7-6 last season. Before a collarbone injury to starting QB Justin Herbert, the team held a 6-2 record. While healthy, Herbert was an important part of the Oregon offense, throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. The defense also returns linebacker Troy Dye, who had 107 tackles last season, including 13.5 for loss.

RELATED: Column - The time is now for Arizona football

November 2 - vs University of Colorado

Returning Starters: 10 (4 offense, 6 defense)

Key Returner: The defense

Colorado burst onto the national scene in 2016, going 10-4 and finishing the season ranked in the top 20. Things looked to be trending up for head coach Mike Macintyre and the program, before a 5-7 season that saw them start 3-0, only to finish last in the Pac-12 South in 2017. QB Steven Montez is a talented gunslinger for the Buffaloes with 3,992 passing yards in just two years in the program. However, the defense remains key for Colorado, especially after they surrendered the FBS quarterback rushing record of 327 yards to Khalil Tate last season.  

November 17 - @ Washington State University

Returning Starters: 10 (4 offense, 6 defense)

Key Returner: Offensive lineman Andre Dillard 

Mike Leach is back to guide the Cougars after it appeared he was going to be the next head coach at Tennessee. He’ll be looking to replace one of the most successful QB’s in program history in Luke Falk, two of his top receivers, and eight members of his coaching staff. ECU grad transfer Gardner Minshew II looks to be the guy at QB, and will need Dillard to buy him some time to throw in the vaunted QB friendly offense of Leach. 

November 24 - vs Arizona State University

Returning Starters: 12 (8 offense, 4 defense)

Key Returner: Linebacker Koron Crump

The Herm Edwards experience is a full-go in Tempe. Edwards has been away from coaching since 2008 and hasn’t coached in college in almost 30 years. Wide receiver N’Keal Harry is a talented receiver and was named to the first team All-Pac-12 last year. QB Manny Wilkins has had his share of up and down moments as the starter at ASU, but threw for over 3,000 yards last season and has shown the ability to run as well. While the offense is set, the defense only returns four starters and is switching under new defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales to a 3-3-5 scheme. Linebacker Koron Crump had nine sacks in 2016, but missed most of last season due to injury. He will be counted on to return to form for an ASU defense that is relatively thin compared to previous years. 


Heather Newberry
An Arizona fan sits with an Arizona State fan during the UA-ASU rivalry game on Nov. 25 at Sun Devil Stadium.



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