The first day of September will mark the beginning of two new eras, one for each team playing, as Arizona will play host to the Toledo Rockets on Saturday at 7:30 PST.
Both schools will be introducing new coaches: Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Matt Campbell at Toledo.
Leading Arizona's offense is redshirt senior signal caller Matt Scott. Scott took the year off last season in preparation to run the offense in his final year.
In fact, the last game he started was October 30, 2010 against UCLA, passing for a career high 319 yards in a victory. The Wildcats won both games that he started that season while filling in for the injured Nick Foles.
Scott will have plenty of options to choose from when attacking the Toledo defense. There is a multi-headed monster growing in the Arizona backfield with Ka'Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins leading the way. In addition, the Wildcats have plenty of capable receivers, including Dan Buckner and Terrence Miller.
Coaching in his first regular season game, Campbell will try to recreate some Rocket magic that topped Rodriguez in his first year with Michigan, 13-10.
He is 1-0 in his career after leading the team to a bowl victory after Tim Beckman left to coach at Illinois.
The Rockets have their own two-headed monster, but at quarterback instead of tailback. Austin Dantin was named the starter, but Terrance Owens will also see snaps during the game and may arguably be the better of the two. They're also returning a pair of experienced offensive threats in Bernard Reedy and David Fluellen.
One way or another, one head coach will start his new career with a loss.
Players to watch:
#4 – QB, Austin Dantin: The senior will get the start on Saturday and play the first offensive series. He should see more snaps throughout the game and can be dangerous as he threw for 1,404 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He is going to be a threat from the pocket with his experience and decision-making.
#2 – QB, Terrance Owens: As a sophomore, he threw for over 2,000 yards while splitting time with Dantin. Owens will play the second series of the game and success could give him a majority of the snaps. In addition to being an incredibly accurate quarterback (72.2 completion percentage last season), Owens can also attack defenses on the ground. Arizona has struggled against dual-threat signal callers in the past, but the new defense may change that.
#23 – DE, T.J. Fatinikun: After missing the second half of last season, Fatinikun is healthy and ready to contribute. He was selected to the third-team All-MAC even after missing time with an elbow injury. The defensive lineman has taken on a leadership role while adjusting to a new defensive coordinator, but has adjusted well and should be a nightmare for quarterbacks coming off the edge.
#9 – DE, Christian Smith: After filling in for the injured Fatinikun last season, Smith has won the starting role over last year's sack leader, Ben Pike. He may be one of the most improved on the team after starting to break out late in the season. Coupled with Fatinikun, Matt Scott should get some pressure from the defensive ends.
#67 – C, Zac Kerin: The center is a big part of the offensive line. At 6-foot-5, 300-pounds, Kerin is the keystone of the pass protection. Blocking for two different quarterbacks isn't easy as they have separate tendencies. Even with the differences (including a scrambling quarterback), the offensive line only gave up ten sacks all of last season, which ties for sixth in the nation.
Keys to the game:
1. Play team defense: Arizona is opening the season with a 3-3-5 defense that Jeff Casteel has been installing ever since he stepped foot on campus in January. The 3-3-5 has been difficult for some players to pick up, but they should be fine against Toledo if the players work together and don't miss many assignments.
2. Make big plays: The Wildcat offense needs to stretch the defense with long yardage plays. Driving down the field may prove to be tough drive after drive, but the no-huddle snaps should allow the play makers to move the chains often.
3. Limit big plays: Toledo has a few play makers of their own on offense. Owens and Dantin will attempt to stretch Arizona's defense with the help from David Fluellen and Bernard Reedy. If the defense can limit the Rockets' big play potential, then it should be successful.
4. Play within the system: The spread option offense has been anything but easy to learn. Rodriguez will likely call plays out of a basic playbook, which should limit mistakes, but the players have to recognize when they are trying to do too much. Doing too much often leads to turnovers, which could be a major factor in the season opener.
5. Feed off the moment: It may be years until there is another first game of a new era in Arizona football. The crowd and Wildcat nation will be behind the players on Saturday and they need to take it in and use it. A win on Saturday could be a big factor going forward in the Wildcats' season.