Cal doesn't actually play Arizona in 2012, just as we didn't play them in 2011. Of course, Cal managed to miss one of the worst teams in the Pac-12 in 2011, but they might be significantly better in 2012. Why? One man: Rich Rodriguez. The wizard of West Virginia, the mediocre of Michigan, he now brings his magic brand of offense to the desert.
What can we expect from the Wildcats in 2012? To find out, we spoke with Kyle Kensing at SBNation's Arizona site, AZDesertSwarm. They can update us about where Arizona is post-spring practice in the RichRod era. Many thanks to AZDesertSwarm for their awesomeness. GO BEARS!
1. What were the core questions that you had hoped would be answered by Spring Practice? Were conclusions reached?
The defense's acclimation to the new system is the most burning question I have for the 2012 season. It's difficult to glean too much from spring football, but the offense dominated the final game. Probably not a good sign.
2. Any major style changes coming our way in the fall? New offense or defense installed?
The spread option Rich Rodriguez is known for is on its way. UA spread it out previously, but was much more of a passing attack than the new system. UA has been best traditionally when it finds a nice balance between the rush and pass, so elements of the old system could be sprinkled in with the new. Matt Scott is certainly capable. The defense is switching to a 3-3-5 stack, which Jeff Casteel ran brilliantly at West Virginia. How UA adjusts will tell the tale of the Rodriguez era.
3. What players emerged on offense? On defense?
Ka'Deem Carey broke out toward the end of his true freshman season. He could be a star in an offense more catered to the rush. Taimi Tutogi is another weapon who came in later in the season. He's a big fella, around 6'1, 260, and can run and receive. Defensively, Tra'Mayne Bondurant is a nice fit in the new scheme. Casteel uses a roaming, safety/linebacker hybrid. Bondurant should flourish in that role.
4. What are your biggest worries coming out of spring ball for the fall?
Defense, defense, defense. UA had the most porous D in the Pac. The lineup's very thin, and installing a new system could exacerbate the weaknesses.
5. Project your season. Contender? Pretender? Middle of the pack?
It's a rebuilding process. 6-6 and a trip to a lower level bowl game (Kraft, New Mexico) isn't far fetched, but it's probably the best case scenario. As it stands, a record similar to 2011 like 4-8, 5-7 seems likely. I expect the 'Cats to be more competitive in those losses, though.
6. Any frosh you can't wait to get on campus?
The son of MLB great Ken Griffey Jr., Trey Griffey, is signed at wide receiver. There's obvious intrigue there. Quarterback Javelle Allen played in a spread option formation at Prosper High in Texas and posted monster numbers. He could be the quintessential Rodriguez quarterback.
7. Who will you miss the most from last season? Who will be stepping up to fulfill those shoes?
The combination of Nick Foles and Juron Criner was truly special. UA is going to miss those two. Wideout Dan Buckner has the tools to be a dangerous touchdown target a la Criner, and Matt Scott's well suited to the new system. Still, Foles and Criner leave a huge void.
8. Any particular Pac12 match-up/rivalry you are looking forward to this Fall? Utah hosting USC on a Thursday has my interest piqued. I think the Utes are a contender, and this is their chance to prove it against the team most seem to have anointed champion.
9. What are the specific injury concerns coming out of this spring?
The biggest is safety Adam Hall, who was injured last spring (2011) as well. He tore his ACL in the spring game. With the lack of defensive depth, that hurts.
10. Based on what you've seen, who is ready to take a major leap this fall?
Paul Wulff had Washington State teetering close to being a week-in, week-out competitive team. Mike Leach should push the Cougars over the edge with a fully stocked cupboard, tailored to his spread system.
11. Who do you want to punch in the face?
There's no one in the conference in any capacity who couldn't wallop me, so I abstain.
12. Who's got the best nickname on the team?
There isn't really one that jumps out, but H-back Taimi Tutogi definitely has the best given name.
13. Which one of your assistant coaches is in the hot seat?
With an entirely new staff comprised mostly of assistants who were with Rodriguez at West Virginia, everyone's comfy for now.
14. How are fans feeling about RichRod as Arizona head coach?
There seems to be genuine excitement. He seems fired up and ready to prove himself after things went sour at Michigan. Based on statements he's made, it seems Rodriguez believes UA to have West Virginia's potential. Granted UA doesn't have a legacy that includes Bobby Bowden like WVU had, but there is a similarity in that at Arizona, Rodriguez has a chance to really define the program. Wildcat fans don't care so much about the how like Michigan's fan base. They just want wins.
15. Rich Rod had some really truly awful offenses in his first couple years at Michigan before his recruiting brought in the type of players to create a spread nightmare for opposing defenses. Will the transition be as difficult at Arizona, or do the Wildcats already have some solid personnel on hand for his system?
Offense won't be the issue. Maintaing last year's offensive coordinator Robert Anae as O-line coach should smooth the transition, and there's plenty of talent accustomed to a spread-out formation. The offensive line was inexperienced last season, but got a lot of snaps under its collective belt. That should ease the process along tremendously, because the skill position players should be good to go.