Arizona will hold its first fall camp practice on Tuesday, signaling the start of the Wildcats' 2015 season. Much has already been made about the lack of a bye week for Rich Rodriguez and co., but the schedule also groups into four quarters.
First Quarter: Tune-ups
Arizona will open the season with its only weekday game of the year on a Thursday night against UTSA. Despite having to replace the starting quarterback for the second year in a row, the Roadrunners may be the toughest of Arizona's non-conference foes.
Larry Coker's team has made improvements every year since its inception. Arizona had to squeak out a 26-23 win in San Antonio last year as Anu Solomon struggled in his first road game, but playing at home should help the Wildcats get off to a good start in 2015.
The first road test of the season comes in week two, when Arizona travels north to face Nevada. The Wolf Pack has finally said goodbye to long time quarterback Cody Fajardo and will have to find itself on offense. With the Wildcats trying to break in a few new faces on defense, this road trip will be a good early test for how much Arizona has improved since last year when the match-up in Tucson saw the Wildcats hold off a late Wolf Pack rally for a seven-point victory.
To finish off the non-conference slate, Arizona will welcome Northern Arizona for a last chance tune up game before the conference schedule kicks off. NAU hasn't been to Tucson since 2013 and while showing flashes of excellence in 2014, the Lumberjacks will likely be over-matched in this one. Expect Arizona to try to get an early lead and try to pick up some extra rest for some players in the second half.
Second Quarter: Early Challenges
Even though this game comes in week four, Arizona is not going to be facing a UCLA team that will clearly be better near the end of the season. The Bruins are a stacked team, but have some glaring question marks on offense. The offensive line struggled to protect Brett Hundley at times last season and with true freshman Josh Rosen being the likely starter under center, you wonder how much progress he will have made that early in the season. Nevertheless, Arizona is 0-3 against UCLA under Rodriguez and this one will be the first really difficult test of the year.
After a strong divisional match-up with UCLA, the Wildcats will face off against Stanford on the road. Both teams have helped the other secure Pac-12 Divisional Championships in the past few seasons, but that changes when they face off for the first time since Rodriguez's inaugural season in the desert. That game back in 2012 went to overtime and gave the first taste of just how potent Arizona's uptempo offense could be.
Having the battle with Stanford so early in the season is definitely in the bad column for Arizona as the season progresses. Playing against a physical team like Stanford can possibly leave the Wildcats in a vulnerable spot heading into a Family Weekend date with Oregon State.
The Beavers are transitioning under a new coach, but have historically been a thorn in Arizona's side the last few meetings, winning the last three. If the Wildcats are healthy this one isn't quite as difficult, but a banged up team could make this one a trap game for an Oregon State squad who could be hurting for a big victory.
Third Quarter: Calm Before the Storm
Opening the second half of the season, Arizona should have a couple of easy challenges, starting with a road trip to Colorado. Of course, all of these games becomes significantly more difficult with injuries, but providing that Arizona is healthy for the most part, the trip to Boulder shouldn't be much of a challenge. The Wildcats have had big games against the Buffs in the past and this one should follow suit.
The intriguing (and only home) game here is the one against Washington State. Arizona mopped the field with the Cougars on the road last year, but struggled to move the ball at home the season before. Mike Leach has stuck to his spread offense after his move to the Pac-12, but it hasn't evolved well enough to make Washington State a threat in the conference and this game could exploit that.
The week nine showdown in Seattle with Washington marks the beginning of the hardest stretch of Arizona's season. Chris Peterson fumbled away a win in Tucson last season and the Huskies will be seeking revenge. This late in the season Washington should have figured out its quarterback situation after incumbent Cyler Miles was forced to retire in the off-season following a hip injury. This should shape up to be one of the toughest challenges that the Wildcats have faced up to this point in the season.
Fourth Quarter: The Gauntlet
Washington may only hold on to the toughest game trophy for a week because the final quarter of the campaign opens with a road trip to Los Angeles and a face off with USC. The Trojans gave the Wildcats a heartbreaking first loss of the year last year when a Casey Skowron field goal that would have won the game sailed wide right. USC is one of the favorites to win the South this year and playing in the Coliseum is certainly no help for Arizona.
Senior day for the Wildcats will be another daunting test when Utah rolls into town. Arizona dominated the Utes on the road last time around, but that should seem deceptive as Head Coach Kyle Whittingham has always found a way to win a few big games each season. This won't be an easy test by any means, but it is certainly the lighter of the last three opponents.
The season, as always, ends with a bang and a showdown with in-state rival Arizona State. The Wildcats beat the Sun Devils to win the Pac-12 South and secure Rodriguez's first victory over ASU Head Coach Todd Graham. The victory earned Arizona a berth in the Pac-12 Championship and the Fiesta Bowl. This time around it could be a different story, but there's no doubt that the game will be meaningful.