Wildcats on track under Rodriguez

Posted: Updated:
By Sarah Blais By Sarah Blais

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Rich Rodriguez put an immediate imprint on Arizona, creating a buzz around the program and its fans with his charisma and fast-paced offense.

A winning season, capped by a thrilling comeback victory in the New Mexico Bowl, only added to it.

Now it's time for the encore.

Bolstered by some much-needed depth on defense and a year of experience in Rodriguez's go-all-the-time offense, the Wildcats have even higher expectations for this season.

"I think we learned a lot about our team, what we need to do moving forward," Rodriguez said. "I like this team. I like their attitude. I like what's being built at the University of Arizona."

Five things to watch for as Arizona tries to build on its first-season success under Rodriguez:

1. COUNTING ON CAREY: Ka'Deem Carey flourished in Rodriguez's offense as a sophomore last season, rushing for 1,929 yards, fifth-best in Pac-12 history, while earning consensus All-America honors. He had a rough offseason, though, punctuated by misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges stemming from an alleged domestic violence incident involving his ex-girlfriend. The charges were dropped in June, but Carey may feel like he has something to prove after all the negative offseason publicity.

2. WHO WILL LEAD?: Matt Scott was a perfect fit for Rodriguez's no-huddle offense last season, a mobile quarterback who could throw the ball down the field. Now that Scott is gone - he's with the Jacksonville Jaguars- the Wildcats have a wide-open race between B.J. Denker, Jesse Scroggins or even Nick Isham, a non-scholarship transfer from Louisiana Tech. Denker was Scott's backup last season, though he saw limited time, throwing for 259 yards and three TDs in six games. The big-armed Scroggins played at Southern California before leaving to play at El Camino College last season. Rodriguez hasn't exactly been thrilled with the quarterback play in preseason camp, so there's a chance he could go with Isham or even freshman Anu Solomon.

3. BETTER D: Rodriguez's spread offense put up yards and points in bunches, but it needed to since the defense was allowing the same thing on the other side of the ball. With little depth and not much experience, Arizona's defense was 118th out of 120 FBS teams, giving up nearly 500 yards a game. The Wildcats won some shootouts, but will need to be better on defense to take some much pressure off the offense. And Arizona should be better on that side of the ball. The Wildcats return nearly every player who saw significant playing time last season, have added depth and have more experience in Rodriguez's 3-3-5 system.

4. MISSING HILL: The receiver position is one of the deepest on Arizona's roster, led by 6-foot-4 Terrence Miller, who's back after missing nine games with an injury last season. But there's still a big hole to fill. Junior Austin Hill was expected to be one of the nation's best wideouts this season, but he tore his ACL during spring practice. As a sophomore, Hill was Scott's primary target, catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards while tying a school record with 11 TD catches. Without Hill, Arizona will likely spread it around a little more to players like Miller, David Richards and possibly freshman Trey Griffey, son of former big leaguer Ken Griffey Jr.

5. EARLY SCHEDULE: Arizona got off to a good start in its first season under Rodriguez, winning its first three games. The Wildcats have a chance to duplicate that or even get off to a better start this season. Arizona opens at home against Northern Arizona on Aug. 30, then has games against UNLV and Texas-San Antonio before getting a bye week before its first Pac-12 game, at Washington on Sept. 28. Thanks to a quirk in the schedule, the Wildcats will have another bye before facing Southern California on the road. The early schedule could put Arizona in good position before a tough closing stretch that includes games against UCLA, Oregon and rival Arizona State.

Predicted finish:

Pac-12 South Division: Fourth.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.