We’re back and at it again — looking forward to Saturday’s USC Trojans vs Arizona Wildcats matchup. We didn’t get to see Arizona in Week 1 of the Pac-12 football shortened season and as such, there are a lot of unknowns heading into USC’s first road trip of the season.
We asked some specific questions as such with our friends over at AZ Desert Swarm. Thanks, Brian Pedersen, for joining on here.
CC: What’s the general feel for this team at this stage, having their first game against Utah canceled at what felt like a last-moment’s notice from outsiders?
AZDS: Arizona’s coaches seemed cautiously optimistic going into the Utah game, at least in terms of feeling like the team had improved from a year ago. They were less than an hour from getting on a bus to go to the airport when the game was canceled, and it was only that morning that they first got word of the possibility of a cancellation. The captains lobbied to be allowed to work out on Saturday morning, which they did before watching the USC game on TV and mentally moving on to preparing for the Trojans.
CC: We’ve seen other schools who have had their games canceled due to other team’s issues and they’ve come out swinging, ready to play. Do you get that feeling for this Arizona team, after having their first game canceled due to Utah’s troubles and not their own?
AZDS: I can see that being possible for Arizona, especially since the game is at home and it doesn’t have to travel, but the players we spoke to this week didn’t come off as overly eager. There’s a bit of a resignation at this point that this is the new normal.
CC: Not very many people know who Grant Gunnell is on the national stage. As one of those who thinks he can be a first-round NFL draft pick myself, is there anything that you’ve seen that would support that feeling? What do you think his proverbial ’ceiling’ is at the college level and for his pro prospects?
AZDS: Everyone within the program who has spoken about Gunnell has indicated he looks much further along than a year ago, particularly with his arm strength. Better use of the bottom half of his body has put much more zip on the ball, and that’s on top of already solid accuracy. Gunnell’s ceiling will be dictated by being able to stay healthy—I like to say his ‘surface area’ as a 6-foot-6 QB means there’s more room for injury—and not being disenfranchised by being on subpar teams.
CC: We didn’t get to see what Utah was going to do to replace their defensive starters from last year — and no one seems to be talking about what Arizona is going to do to replace Colin Schooler, Tony Fields and Scottie Young, all of whom could (maybe should) be playing for the Wildcats this year?
AZDS: The defense is by far Arizona’s biggest unknown, not just in terms of personnel but also coaching. Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads is one of four new defensive assistants, and he implemented a 3-4 front before Fields and Schooler decided to transfer out of the LB room in the summer. That middle level is extremely thin, as is safety, so the Wildcats will be heavily reliant on a beefed-up defensive line that includes graduate transfers Aaron Blackwell (New Mexico) and Roy Lopez (New Mexico State) to carry the load.
CC: What’s your prediction for this one? Who wins? Final score?
AZDS: As much as Arizona fans would love to see an upset of USC, the more realistic expectation is to show competitiveness. Move the ball on offense, without mistakes, make a few plays on defense and don’t botch up special teams. That being said, Trojans win 37-23.