Arizona may have growing pains in 2013

During the early afternoon on Saturday, one half of the Pac-12 blog was standing in line waiting to talk to Santa -- er, his kids, his kids were waiting to talk to Santa -- while the other half was watching that little bit of nuttiness going on between Arizona and Nevada in New Mexico.

The obvious question: No, the Pac-12 blog didn't use its pull with Santa, which as you all know is considerable, to get the Wildcats an early gift. But it's no surprise you might feel that way about that "No-way-that-just-happened" 49-48 victory.

The following pretty much happened:

Ted: My iPhone is trying to fool me -- Siri is mad because she saw me admiring the new Samsung Galaxy. It says Arizona won 49-48. That can't be right. It was 45-28 entering the fourth quarter.

Kevin: I have to redo the entire Instant Analysis. The first one was composed in elegantly wrought heroic couplets. It was Pulitzer worthy.

Ted: What the heck happened?

Kevin: Well ... you sorta had to see it.

What an interesting first year for coach Rich Rodriguez, eh?

The Wildcats posted a number of nice wins (Oklahoma State, USC and Washington), a couple of blowout losses (49-zip at Oregon, 66-10 at UCLA) and a pair of blown big games (54-48 in overtime to Stanford and 41-34 to Arizona State).

In consecutive games to finish the season, they yielded a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to their good friends from Tempe, and they overcame a 17-point deficit in their bowl game, one that featured their own players fighting each other on the sidelines. So, yeah, you couldn't take much for granted with this team, even them not punching each other.

The end result is an 8-5 finish, including Arizona's first bowl win since 2008. The program has won eight games twice since going 12-1 in 1998, but no more.

So, despite the loss to the Sun Devils, it's fair to call this a successful season for Rich Rod.

In the preseason, this looked like a team that would be hard-pressed to reach six wins and earn a bowl berth. The offense looked potentially strong, but the defense didn't pass the sight test, particularly up front.

That impression proved true, but QB Matt Scott was so good -- as were RB Ka'Deem Carey and WR Austin Hill -- that the offense was (mostly) able to overcome a struggling defense.

And don't view this as a ripping of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Casteel got as much as he possibly could out of this overmatched unit, one that featured no All-Pac-12 players and just two -- LB Jake Fischer and safety Jared Tevis -- that earned honorable mention.

So what does the future hold? Well, Scott will be gone and the defensive front will be a glaring question mark heading into spring practice. Few will project the 2013 team improving on eight wins.

The good news? Well, it's nice to have a returning consensus All-American in Carey as a first option, and the offensive line and corps of receivers should be solid, though both have some holes to fill.

The defense? That's an interesting question. Twenty-one of 22 players on the two-deep from the New Mexico Bowl are scheduled to return in 2013, including all 11 starters. But that's not necessarily a good thing, particularly on the D-line, where the Wildcats got pushed around all season.

Further, Scott was second-team All-Pac-12 this year and couldn't have played much better (and tougher). A legitimate dual-threat who fit perfectly into Rodriguez's spread-option attack, he far exceeded preseason expectations as a passer. From our vantage point, he played himself into the 2013 NFL draft this fall.

He won't be easy to replace. The competition between backup B.J. Denker, former USC QB Jesse Scroggins, a junior college transfer who will arrive this spring, and redshirt freshman Javelle Allen will be interesting to watch. Scroggins, a once-touted recruit, is much more of a pro-style passer than Denker or Allen, so comparing their skills sometimes will have an apples & oranges feel -- not unlike Nick Foles vs. Matt Scott a few years back.

Rodriguez said when he was hired that it takes a few years for him to recruit to his systems on both sides of the ball, obviously alluding to what he wasn't given at Michigan. The moderate success this season might fuel the sort of fans who expect improvement every year, and that group might end up feeling grumpy this time next year.

Still, there's no question the program feels healthier than it did a year ago. The biggest problem, in fact, might only be that the program up north feels a tad bit more sprightly.