Fiesta Bowl band

Who will stand as starting QB in Tucson in 2015? Photo by Wildcat Universe

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon tied the school record with 28 touchdown passes and led the Wildcats to a 10-2 regular season record.

He also threw for just 34 yards in the Pac-12 Championship Game before exiting with an injury and took eight back-breaking sacks in the Fiesta Bowl as the UA ended the year on a two-game losing streak.

It was a disappointing end to Solomon’s excellent freshman season. The question now is whether or not he will still be Rich Rodriguez’s quarterback in 2015.

The year was unexpectedly good for the Cats. An 8-point loss to 11-win Boise State doesn’t change that and the success would not have happened without Solomon’s play. The rookie carried the offensive load until Nick Wilson became established as a running threat and Anu’s toughness cannot be denied as he started every game despite a lingering foot injury.

2014 may have been a dream season for the Arizona football program but it wasn’t a peak season, not by RichRod’s standards. The end goal isn’t a division championship; it’s conference championships, major bowl victories and ultimately being where Oregon and Ohio State are today.

That will only happen when Rodriguez has a game-breaking quarterback and that is what will make this offseason so fascinating.

RichRod has often described his ideal signal-caller as “a point guard that can shoot the 3.” Using that basketball analogy, Solomon’s assist numbers were lacking (his completion percentage – 58% – was lower than B.J. Denker‘s 61% in 2013) and he shot the equivalent of 28% from behind the arc (just 291 rushing yards and 2 TDs).

You may have heard the impressive fact that every quarterback to start multiple seasons for Rich Rodriguez has won his conference player of the year award. Here’s the list:

Rasheed Marshall, West Virginia
First started: 2002 as redshirt sophomore
Years started: 3 (2002-2004)
Big East Offensive Player of the Year: 2004
*69 total TDs set school record

Pat White, West Virginia
First started: Midway through 2005 as redshirt freshman
Years started: 4 (2005-2008)
Big East Offensive Player of the Year: 2006 & 2007
*103 total TDs set school record

Denard Robinson, Michigan
First started: 2010 as true sophomore
Years started: 3 (2010-2012)
Big Ten Offensive Player of Year: 2010
*10,745 career total yards set school record

That’s the bar. Can Anu clear it? If not, you have to find someone who can.

Spring ball will be the first extended look at Brandon Dawkins, a heralded quarterback recruit who redshirted in 2014. Dawkins has some running ability, having rushed for almost 1,400 yards as a three-year starter in high school. Solomon, in comparison, ran for just 200 yards as a senior, so his minimal output on the ground isn’t new and probably isn’t going to change.

You also can’t count out Jerrard Randall, who served as the UA’s third-string quarterback this season. The transfer from LSU checks all the boxes on the RichRod prototype QB blueprint and will be entering his second year in the program. Can he display a level of passing accuracy that he hasn’t shown in his limited playing time thus far?

And will there be any other names in the mix? We know Rodriguez and his staff won’t stop trying to land top-shelf talent, both out of high school and as transfers. Ohio State, for example, can’t start all three of its star-caliber QBs next year.

I have not given up on Solomon. You don’t throw for 3,800 yards in the Pac-12 without talent and he does have three years left to develop. He has shown himself to be a leader in the Fiesta Bowl aftermath and has admitted his need to improve:

If RichRod and quarterback coach Rod Smith decide Solomon can be great I expect him to excel and every record this school possesses will fall. But it will be very interesting to watch and wait for that decision to be made.

Pat White won the Sugar Bowl as a freshman. Denard Robinson was the Big Ten’s best player his first season as a starter. It was 100% certain each was going to return as the top guy the following year. There isn’t that guarantee with Anu Solomon.

The next step awaits for Arizona Football. Wildcat Universe now awaits the development – or arrival – of the quarterback who can take that step.

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