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Arizona Football: 2018 Wildcats Preview and Prediction

Khalil Tate, Arizona Football

Khalil Tate, Arizona Football

After three straight years of disappointing results, Arizona parted ways with Rich Rodriguez and replaced him with Kevin Sumlin after he was dismissed by Texas A&M. Similar to his tenure with the Aggies, offense should not be an issue for Sumlin, who inherits one of the country's most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks along with a stable of running backs and a solid offensive line. As usual, the biggest question for the Wildcats is on defense, but nine returning starters are a good foundation for Marcel Yates to build around. Arizona catches some breaks with its schedule, so don't be surprised if Sumlin has his Wildcats contending in the Pac-12 South right away.

Previewing Arizona Football's Offense for 2018

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Arizona led the Pac-12 in scoring and total offense last year, and new coach Kevin Sumlin has the resources to match that 2017 production. Junior Khalil Tate was the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week four weeks in succession last October, which was unprecedented. Tate was a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's system, which was based around a quarterback's ability to run. Tate carried 153 times; he avoided injury but is unlikely to average anywhere near 15 rushes per game in Sumlin's offense, which is more balanced. The Wildcats' running backs situation is also promising after UA led the Pac-12 in rushing yards last year. J.J. Taylor is a quick and elusive outside runner but is facing significant competition from sophomores Nathan Tilford and Gary Brightwell.

Arizona was last in the Pac-12 in passing a year ago, but Sumlin won't have difficulty finding talented receivers. Sophomore tight ends Bryce Wolma and Jamie Nunley are a key part of the scheme. Slot receiver Shun Brown, a senior, is Arizona's most productive pass catcher. He caught 43 balls for 573 yards. Among of the discoveries of spring practice was 6'5" senior Shawn Poindexter, who emerged as a potential go-to target.

One of Arizona's strengths will be the foursome of tackle Layth Friekh - granted a fifth year of eligibility by the NCAA - center Nathan Eldridge, versatile tackle-guard Cody Creason and likely first-time starting guard Michael Eletise. Michigan State transfer Tshiyombu Lukusa provides depth.

Previewing Arizona Football's Defense for 2018

With nine returning starters, Arizona should improve on last year's ranking of 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense.

Three sophomore linebackers - Colin Schooler, Tony Fields II and Kylan Wilborn - started as freshmen and have star potential. They are the core and personality of the defense.

Undersized and outmanned for most of the RichRod era, Arizona has some size and depth up front. Fifth-year senior Dereck Boles and junior Finton Connolly are sturdy and have a reasonable amount of Pac-12 experience. The development of end Lee Anderson III and the progress of third-year starting end Justin Belknap give Arizona four good options.

Senior cornerback Jace Whittaker likes to hit and has three full years of experience. Senior safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles is a lot like Whittaker, a three-year starter. Sophomore Lorenzo Burns won a starting job and made 81 tackles at corner. Sophomore safety Scottie Young was an immediate starter as a freshman. However, Young was suspended for spring drills for unspecified reasons, and his status is uncertain.

Previewing Arizona Football's Specialists for 2018

Dylan Klumph, a grad transfer from Cal, will be asked to fix Arizona's punting problems; the Wildcats were last in the league with a 34.2-yard punting average. The kicking game appears strong: Senior Josh Pollack and sophomore Lucas Havrisik shared the job a year ago and are back. Brown is one of the league's most reliable punt returners.

Final Analysis

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With a forgiving schedule - Arizona does not play Washington or Stanford - the Wildcats are positioned to contend for the Pac-12 South title. Arizona is thin on defense, but its starters are of Pac-12 quality. Tate will attempt to be the school's first All-Pac-12 first-team quarterback since Arizona joined the league in 1978. But much like on defense, Arizona is not deep and has no game-ready backup should Tate go down. Still, this is Arizona's most anticipated season since 2010.

National Ranking: 32

Pac-12 South Prediction: 3