Pac-12 Preview: Arizona and Arizona State
Photo Credit: Fox Sports
Welcome to our 2019 college football preview series! Kickoff for the 2019 season is just under a month away and it’s time to start taking a look at each team as preseason training camps prepare to get underway. Today we’ll be taking a look at both Arizona schools from the Pac 12.
2018 Record: 5-7
2019 O/U: 7
Many college football enthusiasts, including myself, went all-in on Arizona last season but were severely disappointed with a 5-7 season. The Wildcats had a potent offensive attack that was never able to reach its full potential due to quarterback Khalil Tate sustaining numerous injuries. The Wildcats will look to finally take that next step this fall with their first true recruiting class under head coach Kevin Sumlin.
The offense once again has a lot of potential, but the loss of multiple starting wide receivers will force Kevin Sumlin to get creative and find new options. There is optimism to be had with this group, however, as Khalil Tate will finally be healthy. A more consistent passing game should open things up for running back J.J. Taylor.
The redshirt junior ran for over 1,400 yards in 2018 and should fare even better without the pressure to carry the load. The offensive line is looking a bit thin, which is understandably a concern for a team with a star running back and dual-threat quarterback, but health at the skill positions should help offset that.
The biggest concern for the wildcats will be their defense. They had a tough time slowing down opposing offenses in 2018, especially through the air, but there is hope as 10 of their 11 projected starters will be upper-classmen in 2019. Cornerback Jace Whittaker should also be healthier in 2019, which will help tighten things up in the secondary. On the ground, they weren’t nearly as bad as through the air so returning starters and a new batch of recruits should help them put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
I’m told that the definition of insanity is to constantly repeat the same action while expecting a different result, but I’m going to go ahead and predict a winning season for the Wildcats anyway. As disappointing as they were last year, a lot of their shortcomings came as a result of bad luck and bad health. The back half of their schedule is pretty brutal, but they have a borderline cakewalk to open the season. Arizona opens with Hawaii, NAU, Texas Tech, UCLA, and Colorado which should be five easy wins (except Hawaii … weird things go down in Hawaii). Expect the Wildcats to go to a Bowl game in 2019.
2019 Predicted Regular Season Finish: 7-5
Team: Arizona State
2018 Record: 7-6
2019 O/U: 7.5
The Sun Devils didn’t dazzle anybody in 2018, but they proved they were at least capable of some pretty big upsets (most notably Michigan State). Arizona State was a decent team a year ago and they look to be a stronger team in 2019.
The key to the entire season for Arizona State will be how effective they run the ball. Five high-caliber seniors will make up the offensive line that will be blocking for star running back Eno Benjamin.
This points to signs of success, but it won’t come easy because the team no longer has either quarterback Manny Wilkins or star wide receiver N’Keal Harry to power the aerial attack. Junior Dillon Sterling-Cole is expected to take the reins at quarterback, but he’ll have to beat out Freshman Jayden Daniels who shined at spring practices.
The defense this year will be hard to predict, because, despite their struggles in 2018, they look to be one of the most improved units in all of college football. They started a ton of Freshman last season and that experience should pay off big time in 2019.
Look for last year’s PAC-12 defensive freshman of the year, linebacker Merlin Robertson to wreak havoc. The secondary will be a strong suit. Experience and added depth should help them at the very least take a step forward.
This season will say a lot about how the team’s future with head coach Herm Edwards looks as this will be his first real test. In 2018, the team was essentially pre-built to be moderately successful because of its offensive triple threat alone.
In 2019, however, Edwards will have to prove he can retool on the fly with a new recruiting class of his own coming in. I’m going to be cautiously optimistic and say they push Utah for the division crown, but come up just short. They aren’t ready to contend with the PAC-12’s elite, but they’re still better than most.
2019 Predicted Regular Season Finish: 8-4