We conclude our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with Arizona.
Offense: The Wildcats were a little funny this year, offensively. While they excelled at running the football, averaging 264.9 yards per game, the passing attack was last in the conference at 193.5 yards per game. This is a far cry from the Matt Scott-led attack of 2012, which averaged nearly 300 yards per game and produced 30 touchdowns in the air. But, as is always the case, it all comes down to points. And the Wildcats were sixth in the league with an average of 33.5 points per game -- that’s down from last year’s total of 38.2 ppg. As you’d expect, it was the Ka'Deem Carey show. The Doak Walker finalist and Pac-12 offensive player of the year rushed for at least 100 yards in every game he played in and was second nationally with 157.1 yards per game. The reason for the step back was the transition to B.J. Denker at quarterback. He never replicated Scott’s production, but after a rocky start he went seven straight games with a completion percentage of at least 60 percent, including a 17-of-24 performance for 275 yards with two touchdowns in the bowl win over Boston College. He also posted a 90.8 QBR in the win over Oregon. Down a few receivers because of injury and attrition, Nate Phillips stepped up to lead the team with seven touchdown receptions. With Austin Hill expected to return from injury and several key transfers making the jump from the scout team, Arizona’s offense is expected to take a big step forward next season. But in 2013, Carey’s presence alone made the Wildcats formidable. Grade: B-
Defense: A lot of what we’ve based these grades on in this series is improvements from last year to this year. And Arizona’s defense certainly qualifies as having improved. With almost the entire starting 11 back from last year, the Wildcats made huge strides in scoring defense, rush defense and they upped their sacks and tackles for loss per game. In 2012, the Wildcats allowed 35.3 points per game and ranked 102nd nationally. This year they cut that number by 11 points per game to 24.2. You can chalk it up to another year in the 3-3-5 and understanding roles better. Coaching has a lot to do with that, as well. They weren’t a great turnover team, posting a minus-1 turnover ratio. Though they were one of the better teams at recovering fumbles. Jake Fischer was his steady self with 99 stops, and Marquis Flowers posted a team high 11 tackles for a loss. Tra'Mayne Bondurant had an exceptional year in the secondary with a pair of pick sixes. Though they weren’t tops in the league, there was still marked improvement from last year to this year. Grade: B
Special teams: Jake Smith was streaky, converting 12 of 19 field goals, including a long of 53. But he also struggled from the 30-39 range, converting just 2 of 5. From a punt and kick standpoint, the Wildcats didn’t return either for a score. But they didn’t give up any, either. Nor did they have any field goals blocked. They were middle of the road in punting average and middle of the road in kick coverage. Not spectacular, but not bad, either. Grade: C+
Overall: After dropping their second Territorial Cup of the Rich Rodriguez era, they rebounded to knock of a BCS conference team and win their bowl game. They’ve posted back-to-back eight win seasons and scored a signature 42-16 win at home over No. 5 Oregon. If you’re a Wildcat fan, you have to feel pretty good about the direction of the program under Rodriguez. Though being 0-2 against the Todd Graham led Sun Devils stings a bit. New facilities are in place, a solid recruiting class is on the way, and the team received votes in the final AP poll. Quarterback is a question for next year. But given the talent coming in, combined with the talent coming back and coming off of injury/the scout team, it’s not unreasonable for fans to get their hopes up for next season and the possibility of their team contending for a division title. Grade: B