Oct. 1, The Rose Bowl
2015 Record: 7-6 (3-6)
2015 Recap: A year after winning the Pac-12 South, Arizona fell back to the pack in a big way in 2015, largely because of a spate of critical injuries. At one point, with so many defensive injuries, the Wildcats were stuck playing walk-ons at linebacker, and it showed in ugly losses to UCLA and Stanford. Running back Nick Wilson spent big portions of the season hurt, as did star linebacker Scooby Wright. They also suffered a series of offensive line injuries that began before the season started and carried over into the year. Arizona is not such a deep team that it can afford the losses of star players for significant periods of time, as was borne out last year. There was some concern after the season that Rich Rodriguez would leave for one of many open college jobs, but in the end, he decided to stay in Tucson as the Wildcats hope to rebound from last season.
Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 8 defense)
2016 Projection: As is the case typically when teams suffer a lot of injuries in the immediately preceding year, there's reason to think Arizona could bounce back this year. Many players who otherwise wouldn't have played a ton got a lot of valuable experience last year, to the point where Arizona has the most returning starters in the Pac-12 in 2016.
The Wildcats are junking the 3-3-5 defense under new defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, and are going to more of a traditional, attacking defense, and it'll be interesting to see how that plays out. The Wildcats apparently didn't do all that much team work in spring ball, instead focusing on fundamentals and individual work after Rich Rodriguez was very displeased with the team's ability to tackle last year.
Arizona has a returning starter at quarterback in Anu Solomon, but there's no guarantee that he'll start this year. Rodriguez has wavered between moderately happy with Solomon and actively angry with him over the last two years, so it's a fair bet that Brandon Dawkins, who played a good amount last year, will push him hard in fall camp.
Perhaps most importantly, Arizona returns much of its offensive line from a year ago, which should help to give Rodriguez's offense the rhythm it lacked at times last year. If Arizona can keep Wilson healthy (a big if), the offense should be very productive. If the defense can make some strides with the new scheme and the returning starters, Arizona should be able to field a much better product than a year ago.
Arizona plays Grambling State and Hawaii in the non-conference season at home, and then plays BYU at a neutral site -- University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. So, once again, the Wildcats are not exactly challenging themselves in the non-conference. Arizona has a pretty favorable conference slate as well, getting most of its tougher opponents at home (UCLA and Utah on the road being the two exceptions). 5-4 in conference should be the realistic goal, with 6-3 and contending for the South being a reasonable stretch goal.
Outlook for UCLA: The Bruins have generally been able to handle Arizona under Jim Mora, and looking at the strengths of the two teams, it's reasonable to think that UCLA should be able to handle this game as well. That said, this game will come on the heels of arguably UCLA's two most physical games of the season against BYU and Stanford, and there's no telling how beat up the Bruins are at this point.
Like UCLA, Arizona is breaking in a somewhat new defensive scheme, but we'd expect both teams to be gelling a little bit in that department by this point of the year. The hope for UCLA is that the Bruins' offensive scheme, a much different one from years past, is up to the task of beating up the Wildcats the way Noel Mazzone's has over the last four years.
The Bruins have had some poor showings at home over the last few years, though, and this game does seem like it could play that role -- somewhat underwhelming opponent at home sandwiched between Stanford and a tough upcoming road trip to Arizona State. Throw in the fact that UCLA will have just had two tough weeks of games, and this seems poised to be one of those games where the Bruins will have to pay extra attention to its focus leading up to the day of the game.
Next up: Arizona State...