Expectations for 2012: The Arizona game

TUCSON AZ - DECEMBER 02: Safety Adam Hall #12 of the Arizona Wildcats is unable to catch an interception against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the college football game at Arizona Stadium on December 2 2010 in Tucson Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona, like a couple other Pac-12 South teams, is an absolute wildcard this season. They should be better than last year's Wildcats, whose struggle cost coach Mike Stoops his job, but how much better? When you only win four games, it's hard not to be at least marginally better - especially when only two of those wins are in conference. The coaching change alone could prove the difference.

They're coached by Rich Rodriguez, who revolutionized the spread option at West Virginia and then proceeded to bomb at Michigan - where his career there got off to a rocky start when the Wolverines lost to the Utes in 2008. Rodriguez is a good coach. You don't get to within a game of the national championship if you're not...especially as the coach of the Mountaineers.

But can he recapture that success in Tucson - a place that has, at least the past decade, been a near-football graveyard? That's the big question and one that probably won't be answered this season, since the talent at Arizona is still not superb.

There is also the whole schematic change the Wildcats are about to experience. Rodriguez, as he did at Michigan, is going to come in and overhaul the offense in its entirety. He's also making those changes with a slew of new players, as Arizona lost a great deal of its offensive firepower - including quarterback Nick Foles. That's going to be a big loss for the program, but it might be for the best, since Foles doesn't really fit the mold of past Rodriquez quarterbacks - scramblers who could easily tear it up on the ground.

So, in that regard, while he's low on experience, he's not necessarily trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, which he pretty much did his first two years at Michigan before Denard Robinson took over the starting role in 2010.

That quarterback will be senior Matt Scott, who is a bit more mobile and versatile than Foles - but he's still not a Rodriguez recruit and that could create some growing pains for an inexperienced offense.

With a questionable defense, even if the Wildcats are slightly better this year, it's hard to foresee a much better record than 4-8. This is not going to be a one-year rebuild. It's going to take time for Arizona to get the pieces in place to successfully contend for the Pac-12 South.

This is a game Utah should win on paper ... and it might not even be close. Still, the Wildcats will have almost a whole season under their belt in the Rodriguez system and that could make them pretty dangerous. The Utes can't afford to lose another home finale - especially when this game could mean so much in the entire scheme of things. Fortunately, I think they've learned from the Colorado breakdown and should win this one going away.

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