The 2012 Arizona Wildcats football season is now in the rear-view mirror. It sure looks good from here.
What did we learn from the first season with Rich Rodriguez at the helm in Tucson?
The national media likes RichRod.
It started with the near-universal approval of the hire a year ago but the best argument is how the UA jumped into the polls on two different occasions this year.
The Cats went from receiving no votes in the Week 1 poll to being ranked No. 24 after the Oklahoma State win. The voters didn’t mind that Arizona had needed overtime to beat Toledo the week before.
Two months later Arizona went from just seven points in the Week 8 poll back to No. 24 after beating USC. The people casting ballots had no problem with the Cats’ pedestrian 5-3 record.
It showed the voters were watching Rodriguez and it appears they expected him to do well.
When you hear RichRod on national sports radio programs, win or lose, cracking jokes and dropping sound bites you can see why most people outside of Michigan and West Virgina would like to see him make the most of his redemption tour.
Rodriguez started preaching to his team about becoming relevant before the Oklahoma State game and it’s still true. People are paying attention. The UA program is back on the radar.
RichRod’s offense still works.
There was concern after his stint in Ann Arbor that defenses had figured him out or that younger read-option guys like Oregon’s Chip Kelly (who is actually just six months younger than Rodriquez) had passed him by. But after a season of watching the offense at work it’s easy to see the early struggles at Michigan were due to ill-fitting personnel (not to mention the cloak-and-dagger stuff) and not due to the system being outdated.
(Which, if you think about it, was a silly notion to begin with. It was only five years ago that Rodriguez was coming off of three straight 10-win seasons. He was in position to be courted by (and reject) Alabama just six years ago. We’re talking about a college-career-and-a-half, not ancient history.)
In fact, Rodriguez looks even more innovative than before.
He didn’t just run-run-run with his lone scholarship quarterback. He kept his trademark fast-break pace but modified it to a pass-first attack to protect Matt Scott as much as possible. Through the first six games this year the Wildcats passed for twice as many yards (2,210) as they gained on the ground (1,098).
Then the offense adapted again. Over the final six games of the regular season Arizona gained more yards via the rush (1,667) than the pass (1,287). Was this shift due to Scott’s injury, or was it the emergence of Ka’Deem Carey? Either way it led to two 50-point games in each half of the season and a total of six games scoring at least 48 points.
It was the first Arizona team to score at least 50 points four times in a season since 1921. The last time a UA team hit 48 six times? Never and ever.
RichRod’s teams will not be boring.
The matchups with Toledo, USC and the bowl game were thrilling, last-minute wins. Even among the losses, Oregon State and Stanford were entertaining football games.
(Losing to ASU is never entertaining.)
Rodriguez honestly believes he can win big here.
RichRod’s post-game press conferences this year showed he’s still as competitive as they come. He hates losing. He would not have come here and he wouldn’t have uprooted two longtime West Virginians in assistant coaches Jeff Casteel and Bill Kirelawich if he thought they were going to do a lot of losing. And, after year one, Rodriguez remains happy.
There’s football talent in southern Arizona.
Both Arizona’s leading rusher (Carey) and leading tackler (Jake Fischer) went to high school in Tucson. When’s the last time that happened? The Vance Johnson days? The Pop McKale era?
Rodriguez has talked about needing to “blanket the state of Arizona” to keep the best local recruits at home. After this year it certainly appears to be a worthwhile pursuit.
Does all this mean next year will be even better?
We’ll dig into that at another time but I’m not going that far just yet. The quarterback position is a major question mark next year and the defense has a long way to go. Even if – and that’s still an if – Arizona takes a step back and looks more like a rebuilding program in 2013, Rodriguez and his staff showed enough in 2012 to make it very exciting to see what can happen here two, three, four years down the road.
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