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Arizona Football: 2022 Wildcats Season Preview and Prediction

Kyon Barrs, Arizona Wildcats Football

Kyon Barrs and the Wildcats are ranked No. 77 in Athlon Sports' Top 131 for the 2022 college football season

Arizona has gone 1–23 dating back to the early 2019 season, and the Wildcats have the stats to back up that record.

They were 124th nationally in scoring last year. They were 101st in points allowed. Worse, they were 130th in turnovers forced.

Arizona has experienced such depths that boosters from rival Arizona State paid to erect a billboard on the freeway near Tucson with the words: "No Pity for the Kitty."

And yet second-year head coach Jedd Fisch recruited so fiercely and with such unexpected force that Arizona's Class of 2022 was ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 by Rivals.com.

"I don't think anybody saw that coming," says Fisch, who is a new model of head coaching in Pac-12 football — a combination marketing CEO/motivational guru who spends considerable effort to establish an atmosphere of positivity rather than make it all about X's and O's.

Fisch's rebuilding project is more like a transplant. He had 41 new players on campus for spring practice and expects to add another 15 or so in summer camp. That would represent a roster turnover of almost 60 percent. And if there was anything Arizona needed, it was roster turnover. Arizona has the worst cumulative record in conference games since 2011 at 33–62.

To be fair, the Wildcats were a tough out in relatively competitive losses to BYU, UCLA, Washington, USC and Utah. But that simply showed that teams could play their "C-type" games and still beat the struggling Wildcats.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing Arizona's Offense for 2022

Arizona's most immediate need was to change the quarterback situation. Fisch started four quarterbacks last year, the most in any Arizona season ever.

It didn't take Fisch long to improve the QB room. Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura was the league's Offensive Freshman of the Year last season. Arizona then signed Noah Fifita of Anaheim Servite High School, a powerhouse in Southern California. De Laura and Fifita finished spring camp 1-2 in the QB chase.

De Laura plays with a sense of command and is mobile, able to make something out of nothing. Fifita is small (5'9", 184 pounds) but unusually quick, with exceptional arm strength. Jordan McCloud, a former starter at USF, appears to be the No. 3 quarterback.

The strength of Arizona's offense is its receiving group, which is among the youngest in the Pac-12. Elite recruit Tetairoa McMillan, who turned down Oregon to play for the Wildcats, is the most heavily recruited Arizona offensive player since Rob Gronkowski almost 15 years ago. Dorian Singer, who emerged late last season, is expected to join McMillan and UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing on the first unit.

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In spring camp, freshman running back Jonah Coleman, who is compact, powerful and elusive, showed signs of being able to replace last year's starters, Drake Anderson and Michael Wiley. Florida State transfer D.J. Williams will also push for time in the fall.

The offensive line lost two longtime starters, but left tackle Jordan Morgan and right tackle Paiton Fears have combined to start 39 games and are productive. Center Josh Baker and right guard Josh Donovan have extensive experience. Depth on the line will be an issue.

Previewing Arizona's Defense for 2022

Arizona's most notable improvement last season was total defense. The Wildcats held opponents to 371 yards per game, the first time Arizona's defense had held opponents under 400 yards since 2010.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown, however, left to become head coach at UMass. Fisch replaced him with Johnny Nansen, who has spent the last 13 seasons coaching defense at USC, UCLA and Washington. Unlike the blitz-happy Brown, Nansen is more of a conventional coach, reading and reacting.

The strength of the entire UA team is its secondary. Cornerbacks Christian Roland-Wallace and Treydan Stukes and safeties Christian Young and Jaxen Turner have combined for more than 65 career starts.

Among Arizona's minimal defensive losses, only linebacker Anthony Pandy will be hard to replace. Junior defensive end Jalen Harris could be an All-Pac-12 player. Linemen Kyon Barrs and JB Brown were solid in 2021.

The linebacking unit will be led by USC transfer Hunter Echols, who has four years of experience. Jerry Roberts, who broke his leg late last season, was a useful player after transferring from Bowling Green.

Related: Pac-12 Football Predictions for 2022

Previewing Arizona's Specialists for 2022

The Wildcats have a promising kicking twosome: Sophomore Kyle Ostendorp was the All-Pac-12 punter last season, averaging 49.2 yards per punt; placekicker Tyler Loop won the job midway through last season, making all 12 of his field-goal attempts. The punt and kickoff return situation is totally fluid, requiring new contributors to step up.

Final Analysis

At a time Arizona could use a softie or two on its non-conference schedule, the Wildcats face perhaps their most difficult non-league schedule in 25 years. They open at San Diego State, which was 12–2 a year ago and routed Arizona 38–14 in Tucson. Arizona then plays host to Mike Leach and Mississippi State and follows that by meeting defending FCS champion North Dakota State in Tucson. The Bison have won nine national titles since 2011.

Arizona has much better personnel than it had in 2021, especially with de Laura at quarterback and one of the best secondaries the school has had in the last decade. This year, Arizona needs to win a few close games rather than just hanging tight and claiming them as moral victories.

National Ranking: 77

Podcast: Complete Pac-12 Preview + Predictions for 2022