This year's Arizona football season, through seven games—a little over halfway through the season—has looked a lot different from last season.
At this point in 2021, the Wildcats were 0-7, including two losses by at least three touchdowns and a shutout drubbing 34-0 against the University of Colorado Boulder.
There was inconsistency throughout the roster, with a new coaching staff in their first season and three different quarterbacks starting a game.
We wanted to get the perspective of two University of Arizona football beat reporters who have seen this program’s progression over time and see how they view the team’s turnaround.
Between them, Arizona Daily Star sports reporter Justin Spears who also has a daily radio show on ESPN Tucson 104.9, and the Arizona Daily Star’s UA football beat writer Michael Lev have covered the team for the past seven years.
“The big difference between last year and this year is a reflection on the recruiting class and what they did in the offseason,” Spears said. “And the staff did a great job, really focusing on the offensive side of the ball and bolstering that part and it. I think, when you look at the 2023 recruiting class, they're really emphasizing on that side of the ball, as well.”
The Arizona football team starts four freshmen players every week and has 27 total freshmen on their overall active roster. That is an absurd amount of first-year colligate football players that have very little experience at this level.
“I think the biggest factor is new personnel at key positions,” Lev said, who covered the USC football team for the Orange County Register before coming to Tucson.
“But as far as this season, I knew that Arizona was going to be a much better team, but a lot of their players are all young, and you know in college football, we all know this, the more experienced teams are usually the better ones,” Spears said. “[Head coach] Jedd Fisch and his staff are doing everything they can to hit the recruiting trail hard.”
At this point, last season, UA’s offense looked different almost every week and some weeks every drive as they changed quarterbacks often. The players seemed defeated at times, but Jedd Fisch has done a terrific job of keeping their heads up and continuing to fight every week in his second season in Tucson.
“And I would say when you come off of a 1-11 first season, and we know where the program was, in terms of talent, recruiting that, that would be pretty good,” Lev said. “I think most people would take that if they went 5-7 this year and they've won against ASU. At the end of the season, I think most fans would be pretty satisfied and pretty optimistic about the direction that the program is headed.”
The process of taking a program from a 13-game losing streak while looking hopeless to competing for a conference championship doesn’t happen overnight. The first step for the Wildcats is to get to a bowl game within the next two seasons, and then they can compete for a Pac-12 championship.
“If Jedd Fish can keep these guys together over the next month, and as long as they don't get just massacred in every single game, I really think that shows how much he has this team and how much he has them bought into what they're trying to accomplish,” Spears said. “But next year, and the year after that, I think Arizona, without a doubt, they'll have their chance to win these games.”
“I think that the natural progression is to make a bowl in year three, assuming it doesn't happen this year, and I'd say the odds are against it happening at this point just based on the schedule,” Lev said. “I think they are on the right track, and to me, it all starts with recruiting.
Arizona still has a chance to make a bowl game this season, as they have five games remaining. The path to six wins and a bowl game is not easy for this year as they must face USC, the University of Utah and UCLA in their next three games. Building a college football program from the ground up is a process and a journey, but if everyone involved stays the course, the end result could be special.
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