Arizona's surprising 2014 Pac-12 South championship seems to be light years behind in the rearview mirror. Injuries decimated the Wildcats roster for the second consecutive season in 2016. But unlike in 2015, Arizona was unable to keep the ship afloat, tumbling to a 3-9 record.
The Wildcats lost their first eight Pac-12 games before rallying in time for a resounding victory over Arizona State in the Territorial Cup. So at the very least, Arizona finished on a good note. But there wasn't much more positive news for a team that finished in the league cellar.
Team MVP on offense: Quarterback Brandon Dawkins showcased his ability to play like a dual-threat bolt of lightning. He threw for 1,348 yards while also leading the Wildcats with 944 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. The sophomore's long strides came in particularly handy in beating the Sun Devils, when Dawkins ripped off 183 yards on only 12 carries.
Team co-MVPs on defense: Versatile linebacker Paul Magloire Jr. -- once a defensive back -- was the Swiss Army knife of the Wildcats' defense. He led the team with 58 tackles. Fellow linebacker Michael Barton, a grad transfer from Cal, paced the roster with three sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Season highlight: The Wildcats racked up 511 rushing yards in their 56-35 spanking of rival Arizona State in the Territorial Cup. They controlled throughout; Arizona grabbed a 28-7, second-quarter lead and never looked back. After eight straight losses to begin league play, this performance acted as quality mouthwash for the Wildcats.
Season lowlight: Arizona offered no resistance to Washington State in its Nov. 5 trip to the Palouse. The Cougars walloped the Wildcats 69-7. Wazzu's Luke Falk went 32-for-35 in that game, setting a team record with his 91 percent completion rate. Being on the defensive end of that type of offensive record is always embarrassing. To make matters worse, Arizona's attack couldn't muster any success, either.
Biggest reason for optimism heading into 2017: Dawkins is coming back. His sheer athleticism made him a capable, one-man wrecking crew in parts of 2016; look no further than his spectacular scramble and fadeaway bomb on a late game-tying drive against Washington. There'll be big-time roster turnover at Arizona, but Dawkins' electric potential is something to be excited about.
Biggest area of need heading into 2017: Linebacker. Magloire, Barton and Tellas Jones -- the three starters at this level of the defense -- are all gone. The Wildcats must reload with versatile, smart players. Arizona must also address its injury bug. Sure, bad luck could've well been a culprit, but the Wildcats must cultivate depth to protect themselves from another sinking ship in 2017.
Most memorable moment from 2016: Dawkins accidentally leveled Miss Arizona Tommy Lynn Calhoun on the sideline during the battle for the Territorial Cup. But no one was hurt, and Dawkins proceeded to help Calhoun up, pop his head into her live television interview, and ask her on date after the game via Twitter. Calhoun is dating former Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer, so the answer was probably no, but the entire series of events was a lighthearted cap to an otherwise dreary season.