The Pac-12 football season is just over two weeks away. With that comes an offseason full of bold predictions and hot takes leading up to the Nov. 7 start date. Here are our players to watch this season who could potentially be in for a breakout year.
Jacob Mennuti (@jacob_mennuti) — Derick Mourning
There are a few players that have caught my eye in fall camp. I think linebacker Jalen Harris and running back Frank Brown Jr. could be in for productive seasons. However, nobody intrigues me more this year than freshman linebacker Derick Mourning. Since the beginning of fall camp, nobody’s name has been brought up more than Mourning. The Wildcats could not be more desperate right now to find depth at the linebacker position after the losses of Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II in the offseason. The 6-foot-3, 229-pounder is coming off his senior year of high school, where he put up 75 tackles — 10 of them for losses — and seven sacks. Arizona will most likely have to switch up its defensive scheme to compensate for the lack of linebackers on the team, but after hearing all of his coaches and players talk so highly of him heading into this season — I expect Mourning to be the team’s No. 2 linebacker playing next to Anthony Pandy on the defense. The desperation at the linebacker position opens up a prime opportunity for Mourning to step in and make an impact right away.
Ari Koslow (@koslow_ari) — Lorenzo Burns
The player I am most looking forward to watching play this upcoming season is redshirt senior defensive back Lorenzo Burns. After leading the team in interceptions (four) and pass breakups (seven) last season, Burns could have easily followed some of his teammates and transferred to a bigger program, where he would have seen more national attention or even declared and prepared for the NFL Draft, but he instead chose to stay with the Wildcats for his final season. Burns made it clear in his most recent press conference that he is motivated to answer some potential questions that NFL scouts and teams might have about him this season, so I am looking forward to watching Burns raise his potential draft stock at the next level.
Ryan Wohl (@ryan_wohl) — Boobie Curry
My pick for the Arizona Wildcats 2020 breakout star is Boobie Curry. I know that this is a popular pick for this season with all the hype around him, but there are not many college players I have seen more exciting to watch when fully healthy. He has battled several injuries dating back to his senior year in high school. He was sidelined for the first few games of last season, which got him off to a slow start, but this season he is fully healthy and ready to go. He is 6’2, 200 pounds and has a great combination of size, strength and speed. Coming into Tucson two years ago, he was a four-star recruit and set the Texas state record with most receptions in a game with 26. He also projects to the next level very well because a ton of NFL teams nowadays want bigger guys to be able to catch 50-50 balls over tough defenders. I believe with all of his talent combined with his great connection with quarterback Grant Gunnell, he will have a huge season for the Wildcats, scoring 6-8 touchdowns and over 500 yards.
Jake Faigus (@jake_faigus) - Grant Gunnell
I think that there are actually a few players to watch out for when Arizona starts its football season on Nov. 7. I also think that of everyone, the number one player to watch is Grant Gunnell. He comes into the season as the starting quarterback in just his second year with the team. He came to Arizona as one of the more highly touted recruits that head coach Kevin Sumlin was able to get. He came from football powerhouse St. Pius X High School in Houston, Texas with fellow teammate Boobie Curry.
Gunnell is listed at 6’6” and 228 lbs., which is already a very different physicality of quarterback than Arizona has had in recent memory. Gunnell comes into the season already having some college game experience, starting three games during the 2019 season and going 1-2 in those starts.
There is a lot of pressure that Gunnell has to face this upcoming season because Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone have faced a ton of criticism for the downfall of former quarterback Khalil Tate during Sumlin’s first two seasons.
Gunnell now needs to show the fans and the administration that there wasn’t a larger issue there and that with the right quarterback in Mazzone’s system — he could thrive. Gunnell has already started to gain some preseason attention with Pro Football Focus ranking him as the second overall quarterback in the Pac-12 and No. 13 in the country.
Some of his high expectations can be seen with what happened in the time he had to play during the 2019 season. He threw for 1,239 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. He registered a 65.2 completion percentage as well — which might be the most impressive stat of his short college career. He has stepped into his role as a leader very well already by leading the fight to play football for Arizona earlier in the year and now doing media rounds for press conferences. The lights will be on Gunnell, but the expectations won’t be there for Arizona, which might be exactly what Gunnell wants.
C.J. Lala (@cjlala43) - Jamarye Joiner
One player that Arizona fans should keep an eye on this season is redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jamarye Joiner. Joiner appeared in 12 games last season and had 34 catches for 552 yards and 5 touchdowns. Joiner originally joined the Wildcats as a quarterback, but after his redshirt freshman year, Sumlin decided to move him over to wide receiver. His first season had its ups and downs, but he finally put it all tougher in the last game of the season against ASU where he had 7 catches for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns. Sumlin hoped for Joiner to line up as the No. 2 receiver next to Brenden Schooler, who transferred in from Oregon.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats earlier this year, the Pac-12 announced they will not be playing games this season before they reversed the decision a few weeks ago. Many players, including Brenden Schooler, had to find another school to play at this year. This, however, will be a blessing in disguise for Joiner who is now expected to serve as the Wildcats' No.1 receiver. We should see a big increase in his numbers with a much more pass-first quarterback with Grant Gunnell under center.
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