With a tip of the cap to the NFL's Bill Barnwell, who assembled the team triplet rankings for pro football, we decided to do the same with the Pac-12. Here are the parameters: We’ve selected a trio of skill defensive players from each team in the conference.
The rules: Each player comes from a different position group, so the defensive version of this series features a player from the defensive line, linebacker group and secondary. We then ranked each program’s troika against the others in the Pac-12, and we’ll be unveiling and writing about each in reverse countdown order. We continue to No. 7 with the Arizona Wildcats.
DL Sani Fuimaono: Every defense needs a rock in the middle, and this is the man for that job in Tucson. Fuimaono is the Wildcats' 300-pound fire hydrant at nose tackle. He was strong enough to start a couple of games as a freshman in 2011 before taking two years off for his Mormon mission in Chile. Fuimaono returned in 2o14 with even more man strength -- and that fit perfectly with the 3-4 scheme that Arizona had moved to while he was gone. Fuimaono stayed healthy enough to play in all of Arizona's 13 games last year, setting the table for this coming senior season, when he'll be counted on to be one of the Wildcats' leaders in the middle.
LB Paul Magloire Jr.: Versatility is the name of this senior's game. After playing safety for two seasons at Appalachian State and one year at Arizona Western college, Magloire moved to a hybrid linebacker role for the Wildcats last season. At 221 pounds, he's lighter than the average linebacker but still physical enough to register 72 tackles in 2014. Magloire's biggest asset is that he's still quick enough to drop back in pass coverage. That Swiss Army knife capability proved valuable to an Arizona team that was ravaged by injuries last season. Now, the Wildcats would like to see Magloire -- who's reportedly become a vocal leader -- do his thing with the supporting cast healthy.
CB DaVonte’ Neal: He started his college career as a receiver, but Neal has since found his home on the defensive side of the ball. Arizona needed to shore up an unproven secondary a couple of years ago, and Neal -- a versatile and explosive athlete -- was a logical candidate to make the necessary shift. Neal defended six passes and registered one pick in 2015 -- both numbers he'd like to see increase this season -- but he did prove ready for the physical challenge of run support from the secondary, registering 63 tackles. Like Magloire, Neal is a fifth-year senior, so expect him to approach 2016 with added zeal.
Evaluation: It comes down to health for Arizona. When the Wildcats won the Pac-12 South in 2014, a bevy of effective contributors were able to play for the majority of the season. That was not the case in 2015, when injuries, coupled with the lack of a bye week, decimated this squad. Fuimaono, Magloire and Neal were an exception of sorts for Arizona last year: They played in all of the team's 13 games. Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez obviously hopes that happens again, but he also needs this trio's supporting cast to stay healthy for a return to 2014 levels of productivity.