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Northern Arizona Lumberjacks vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction

Anu Solomon

Anu Solomon

Arizona wraps nonconference play Saturday against in-state counterpart Northern Arizona — a game the Wildcats should win. 

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"Everyone's going to say we're supposed to win the game, and we are. We're [FBS] and they're [FCS]," Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said. 

Rodriguez noted that "supposed to win" and winning aren't one in the same. Coming off a week in which Jacksonville State took Auburn to overtime, and two weeks removed from Northern Arizona's Big Sky Conference partner Portland State beating Washington State, Week 3 is no time for the Wildcats to let their guard down. 

"In our level, the games are so important...the routine stays the same [for every opponent]," Rodriguez said. 

A huge Pac-12 opener looms in Week 4, with UCLA visiting Arizona. If both are undefeated and ranked in the Top 20, a visit from ESPN's "College GameDay"is not out of the question. But the Wildcats must do as they've done routinely in the post-World War II era: beat Northern Arizona. 

Northern Arizona at Arizona

Kickoff: 11 p.m. ET

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: Arizona -35 

Three Things to Watch

1. Arizona's Depleted Linebacker Corps 

From bad to worse: Arizona lost star linebacker Scooby Wright in Week 1, then his replacement, Haden Gregory, the following week. 

"We ain't got enough bodies to tinker. We're just filling in," Rodriguez said. "I almost hate our morning staff meetings when the trainer goes over the injury list, because it's like, 'OK, who've we got to play linebacker this week?'" 

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Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel tried to work around the rash of injuries, but Derrick Turituri has been a man on an island. Rodriguez said against Nevada, Arizona went with a few dime packages that put four on the line and just a single linebacker. 

On running downs, however, that won't be feasible. 

2. Turning Nick Wilson Loose Early 

Sophomore running back Nick Wilson quietly had perhaps the best game of his young career last week, rushing for 194 yards and three touchdowns in a rout of Nevada. 

Rodriguez already had one running back at Arizona win the rushing title: Ka'Deem Carey in 2012. Carey also put forth a Heisman-caliber season in 2013. 

Wilson burst onto the scene as Carey's replacement a season ago, and could record numbers similar to his predecessor. Saturday is a prime opportunity for him to rack up yards and scores early before calling it a night. 

3. Going Deep on the Depth Chart 

Jumping on Nevada early into the second half afforded Rodriguez the opportunity to play reserves in Week 2. Back-up quarterback Jerrard Randall got in the end zone on a designed run play, and reserve running back Jamardre Cobb scored on a reception.

Arizona's rash of injuries has worn its roster somewhat thin — all the more reason to give second-and-third-stringers live-game opportunities ahead of UCLA's visit. 

Final Analysis

Northern Arizona alternates between playing Arizona and Arizona State most years. For their troubles, the Lumberjacks are sent back to Flagstaff with a hefty paycheck and a lopsided loss. 

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Still, head coach Jerome Souers' bunch typically throws everything it has at Arizona. For a roster featuring six players from Tucson, this visit to Arizona Stadium is a source of pride for the Lumberjacks. 

They'll unload the playbook early, and don't be surprised if the Lumberjacks get an early score. However, the Arizona deluge will come at some point in the first half, likely putting it out of reach before halftime. 

Prediction: Arizona 49, Northern Arizona 16

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.