Our football beat writers Alec White, David Skinner and Rob Kleifield give their thoughts on Arizona football's upcoming season and predict the Wildcat's win/loss record.
The Kevin Sumlin era gets started with a bang. Khalil Tate improves his passing and, of course, still electrifies with his legs, combining for 40+ touchdowns and an invite to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. The running game ends top three in the conference as J.J. Taylor, Nathan Tilford and Gary Brightwell form a three-headed monster in the backfield. The defense bends but doesn’t break, and keeps games from reaching shootout status. The biggest question mark is the offensive line. If it is unable to keep Tate upright, it could throw a wrench into the season. Nonetheless, Arizona has key wins against the University of Houston, the University of Oregon and Arizona State University, finishing the season second in the Pac-12 South.
RELATED: The time is now for Arizona football
Arizona is coming off an off-season where the entire football program went through an HGTV-esque makeover. Even though Chip and Joanna Gaines of “Fixer Upper” fame weren’t tearing out the old and installing the new pieces, Arizona took a page out of the power couple’s book, removing the unnecessary and building around the strong points. But even with Kevin Sumlin and his new staff on board, are the flashy new additions going to be what helps Arizona reach 10 wins and a Pac-12 South title right away? I’m not so sure. I think nine wins is in the picture, but 10 wins and above seems like a tall order for a first year coach, a quarterback with less than a season of starting experience and a defense that was one of the worst in the conference a season ago.
If Arizona plays up to its potential in September, then Kevin Sumlin could realistically eye a 10-win season in his first year as the Wildcats’ head coach. Handling Houston in week two might be a bigger challenge than last season, despite Tate not starting in 2017, because Arizona’s starting offensive line this season will be so inexperienced. The Cougars’ all-everything defensive tackle, Ed Oliver, will be Arizona’s toughest player to defend right out of the gates.
Sumlin’s success in his inaugural season will be determined by a number of factors, none greater, however, than the Wildcats’ improvements on the defensive side of the ball. I predict Arizona will live up to the hype and steal that elusive tenth victory in the final game of the regular season versus its biggest rival, putting the ‘Cats right on the cusp of a Pac-12 Championship game berth.
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