The Arizona Wildcats are the lone undefeated team remaining in the Pac-12, which is a pretty amazing feat for a program that has never won a conference title outright.
After going into Oregon and taking down the then-No. 2 Ducks on Thursday night, Arizona made the largest jump in the history of the AP Poll, going from unranked to 10th, thanks to all the other craziness that went down in college football last week.
“All I did for six or seven hours was watch other people suffer,” Rich Rodriguez joked. “That was an enjoyable afternoon and evening Saturday.”
But all of this success shouldn’t be seen as a surprise to college football fans.
Rodriguez arrived in Tucson three years ago after Mike Stoops was fired in the middle of the 2011 season. Stoops had lost ten-straight games to FBS opponents after starting the 2010 season 7-1. That point in 2010 was the last time Arizona found itself in the top ten.
Now here they are again, but this time, it’s under much different circumstances.
Rich Rodriguez has revived his coaching career in the Old Pueblo after a disastrous stop in Michigan. But with the recent developments in Ann Arbor, it appears Michigan has some systematic issues to tend to, and that Rodriguez may be absolved from some of the blame for his . And he’s proving that by having the immediate success at Arizona that he’s been experiencing.
Rodriguez took a bare cabinet left by the Stoops regime, and has taken it to back-to-back eight-win seasons, with bowl victories to cap off each of those years. There was one scholarship quarterback when Rodriguez showed up (Matt Scott). Sure, there was Ka’Deem Carey, the best running back in the history of the program – a Tucson native by the way. But he groomed JuCo transfer QB B.J. Denker into a serviceable option last year, and now with Denker on the coaching staff, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon is ready to take this program to the next level.
Solomon won four-consecutive Nevada state titles as the starting quarterback at Bishop Gorman. He has lost a total of three games since middle school.
There is one thing that Stoops left behind that has really helped Rodriguez build this program up though – the new Lowell-Stevens football facility. Stoops helped design it, was out there raising the initial money for it but never got to see it through. Sure, it became a reality with Rodriguez in Tucson, but the foundation for that project was put together by the Stoops staff.
With this new facility, recruiting the highly-touted players to come to Tucson has become easier for the coaching staff, but only if the players agree to come to Tucson on an official visit.
“If we get ’em to visit Tucson, see campus, see what this city has to offer, see our facilities, be around our players, we have a great shot at getting them,” coach said of his recruiting tactics. “But it’s not easy to get here. I tell ’em if they’re coming from the East Coast, go to Vegas and take a left. If you’re coming from the West Coast, go to Vegas and take a right. If they get here on campus, they love it, but they’ve got to give us a shot and we’re getting more guys on campus. And that’s the one thing about the TV games, particularly the midweek TV games, is a lot of kids see that and they would like to be a part of it.”
While Arizona may have found itself in the national spotlight this week, Rodriguez is downplaying all of that attention for right now.
“I don’t mind (being ranked) because it don’t matter,” he said. “It matters at the end of the regular season, but it don’t matter right now. But if it helps get a little extra bounce in our guys’ steps, then so be it.”
Rodriguez has been around long enough to know that this early in the season, rankings mean very little. Their next opponent is a perennial powerhouse, but after two early losses USC has fallen out of the rankings and people are expecting the Wildcats to reign supreme, simply because they’re ranked at all.
“You can be in all the rankings and stuff, but from what I understand USC’s still favored,” Rodriguez added. “And I understand why. There was one guy in our program recruited and offered by USC (Backup QB Jesse Scroggins), and he was there first and is no longer there. So our guys know how talented they are.”
It’s kind of amazing to see the immediate success Rodriguez and his staff are having. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise though. Most of his assistant coaches are guys that he had at West Virginia, and the continuity has really helped instill their beliefs into this team. The Wildcats being 5-0 hasn’t happened since 1998. That’s crazy when you think about how schools emerge from the rubble every year.
Arizona may be a name that college football fans aren’t used to seeing up near the top of the Pac-12 heap, but as long as Rich Rodriguez and his “Hard Edge” gang are in Tucson, expect to see the Wildcats there every year.
It’s only going to get better from here as Rodriguez brings more players that fit his system to Tucson, and the optimism among Wildcat faithful grows stronger as Michigan crumbles in his rear view mirror.
*Section Photo credit to Jason O. Watson, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Crystal LoGiudice, USA Today Sports