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Last season the Wildcats went 3-9 with a 1-8 conference record, with that lone win coming at the very end of the season over Arizona State. When the Trojans and Wildcats faced off last season, USC ran away with it cruising to a 48-14 victory on the road. What is USC to expect from Arizona this time around? We asked AZ Desert Swarm.
Brendan Kearney- Conquest Chronicles
Jason Bartel-AZ Desert Swarm
Brendan: Who will fill the role of RB Samajie Grant? Does Arizona still expect to have a great run game? Why?
Jason: Well, here's the deal with what happened with Arizona's 2016 running game. Two of the top three running backs got hurt, and another one was dismissed from the team for assaulting his girlfriend, so a fourth-stringer (Zach Green), and a wide receiver (Samajie Grant) ended up being the top options aside from the run-first QBs. And that team still led the conference in rushing yards, so yeah, I'd say Arizona will be fine in the running game.
Both guys that got hurt (J.J. Taylor and Nick Wilson) are back, plus Green and the QBs are also back, along with pretty much the entire starting offensive line. They also add a true freshman in Nathan Tilford that will probably be a beast at this level, so Arizona will be pretty good at running the ball this year.
Brendan: What should we expect to see from QB Brandon Dawkins (given he officially secures the starting job)? What strides will he make in this upcoming season?
Jason: You know, a lot of people were down on Dawkins, but he was a different guy after suffering a rib injury against UCLA last year. He was actually pretty good before that happened, and Arizona almost beat Washington with a healthy Dawkins. I think if he's healthy, he has the potential to have a pretty good year. Will he be an elite passer? No. But his legs make up for a lot of his throwing deficiencies, and honestly, I want Arizona to run the triple option this year. They'd be unstoppable on offense with the current stable of running backs and quarterbacks.
Brendan: Arizona’s defense had their issues last season, what players should help turn that trend around this year?
Jason: The safeties should be pretty good. Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles is probably the best NFL prospect on the roster, and he's got a couple of other sophomores that got plenty of playing time last year.
I also feel like the defensive line will be better. Larry Tharpe Jr. came on late last year as a community college walk-on, and he has the potential to be the best player up front this year. I also like the progress of guys like Justin Belknap and Parker Zellers. There's also a new wrinkle of having a coach dedicated to the edge rusher position that should only help that group actually get to the quarterback.
The thing most Arizona fans (including me) are probably worried about is the linebacker group. There's a lot of inexperience and unknowns there. RichRod could legit have three true freshmen out there at the same time at linebacker, and that feels scary.
Brendan: What are the expectations for Arizona fans this season?
Jason: It's a mix. People either expect this team to be a complete failure and RichRod gets fired midway through the year (there's a new athletic director in town this year now too), or they sneak out a 6-6 or 7-5 type of year and end up in the New Mexico Bowl. Personally, I'm in the more optimistic camp. I think the offense can pull out some wins, the non-conference schedule is relatively weak, and the conference schedule could lend itself to a couple of stolen games here and there.
Plus I'm already going to be in Albuquerque that weekend, so I'm perfectly good with the New Mexico Bowl.
Brendan: What’s a bold prediction you have for this team this year?
Jason: They'll beat Houston and Utah and start the year 4-0. I'm probably pretty alone on that island.
Special thanks to azdesertswarm.com for talking with us. You can watch the Trojans and Wildcats face off Saturday, November 4 in the Coliseum.