Mailbag: What's up at Arizona? Huskies vs. Cougars

Happy Friday ... are your taxes done?

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More than a few notes on new USC athletic director Lynn Swann. You can read my thoughts on that here.

To the questions!

Joshua from Bullhead City, Arizona, writes: I've read a lot about Pac-12 defenses this offseason (Oregon's shiny new defense under Brady Hoke, Washington's returning defense, Stanford's defense, etc.), but I haven't seen anything about Arizona's defense. You have any news on what the Wildcats' defense is looking like under new coordinator [Marcel] Yates?

Ted Miller: Joshua, were you too busy enjoying the fruits of Bullhead to notice this! Or this?

It might seem like there's a lack of coverage on Arizona right now but there are two reasons for this: 1. Arizona started and finished spring practices before anyone else; 2. Yates and coach Rich Rodriguez, while being abundantly pleasant, pretty much refused to get pinned down on anything during spring practices that were mostly closed, from scheme to a post-spring depth chart.

My guess is that Yates' defense is going to end up looking like the base-nickel he ran at Boise State, with some tweaks based on what Rich Rod wants and what the Wildcats have in terms of personnel.

That final issue is the most challenging. The Wildcats defense pretty much disintegrated last year when All-Everything LB Scooby Wright was lost for the season due to injury. The 2016 unit will be a no-name crew, as no returning Wildcats defender earned even honorable mention on the 2015 All-Pac-12 team, a dubious distinction Arizona shares only with Oregon State.

As noted in the above story, the Wildcats ranked 10th in the conference in scoring defense (35.8 points per game), pass efficiency defense and turnovers forced last year. No Pac-12 team gave up more rushing touchdowns (30), and they also were the worst in the red zone, yielding a touchdown 72.4 percent of the time when foes pushed inside their 20-yard line, which ranked 118th in the nation.

The hope is that Yates will be able to get his players to play hard, disciplined football within a creative scheme that keeps offenses off-balance. Ultimately, Rodriguez overhauled his defensive staff because of recruiting -- he needs better players and better depth to consistently compete at the highest level in the Pac-12 and push Arizona into national relevance.

Henry writes: Hey, Ted the only teams that have returning quarterbacks in the Pac-12 North are Washington and Washington State. Both are legit contenders for the North Division, so who do you give a better chance of reaching the Pac-12 Championship Game?

Ted Miller: My general inclination is to rate the Huskies ahead of the Cougars entering the season based on what both teams have coming back. Ah, but it's not only about returning players, is it?

What about schedule?

Washington plays five Pac-12 road games compared to four for Washington State. Further, the Cougars' two misses -- USC and Utah -- are more advantageous than the Huskies' -- Colorado and UCLA.

As far as head-to-head, Washington State will welcome the Huskies to Pullman on Nov. 25, when it figures to be a bit chilly.

Yet here's how I wiggle out of request for a prediction in mid-April.

It's difficult to imagine Washington won't go 3-0 in its nonconference games. Washington State is at Boise State in Week 2. I view that as a critical measuring stick game for the Cougs. If they win that game, click into place my prediction that they eclipse the Huskies in the North.

And if they don't, I'll go with Washington.

And I fully expect that answer to make no one happy.