I wrote a similar column to this one last year, when I first debuted the blog…and while I was WAY off (Arizona went 7-5, not 5-7), at least I got two things correct…that Rich Rodriguez wouldn’t be the Wildcats’ head football coach come 2018 and that “Arizona football will look a lot different in 2018.” In my wildest dreams, however, I would never have expected Arizona to land a coach with the successful track record that Kevin Sumlin brings to Tucson.
Rodriguez had his moments of success but in the end his lack of successful recruiting and lack of fan interest was key to his demise. I know there were off-the-field things…but I’ll leave those out of this column.
For those of you who know me personally, I’m most passionate about two sports teams: the Chicago Cubs and Arizona Wildcats football. Some of you may think I’m drinking the Kool-Aid with these predictions…but here’s how I feel about UA’s chances in 2018:
SAT 9/1, BYU (home): The Cougars were beyond horrendous in 2017 going 4-9 when some predicted 10-3 might’ve been too pessimistic heading into the year. 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer was canned as offensive coordinator and former-LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes now commands a unit that has a four-man QB derby headed into Fall camp. Arizona has a Heisman candidate in Khalil Tate + a renewed energy in the program with Sumlin’s arrival. In what should be an electric atmosphere for the first time in quite a while at Arizona Stadium, Tate throws for 250 and rushes for 125, combining for 3 TDs in a fine opener.
Prediction: Arizona 34-20 (1-0)
SAT 9/8, Houston (away): There’s a payback angle for this game as Major Applewhite’s Cougars came into Arizona Stadium and narrowly beat the Wildcats, 19-16 last September. Houston DE Ed Oliver might be the #1 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and Tate will be under constant harassment by him…but Arizona’s offense is too good to stall as it did last year. In what should be a fun matchup of QBs on paper, Tate vs. D’Eriq King, the Wildcats thunder and lightning RB duo of J.J. Taylor and Nathan Tilford combines for 3 scores in a dramatic come-from-behind thriller.
Prediction: Arizona 35-31 (2-0)
SAT 9/15, Southern Utah (home): The Thunderbirds went 9-3 last season in FCS’ Big Sky Conference but they also got smacked 77-21 by Oregon in last year’s opener. This one won’t go much better for SU. Khalil Tate plays 3 quarters and combines for 400+ total yards in a blowout. We see our first glimpse of true freshman Kevin Doyle at QB and the Arizona defenses finds the end zone for the first time in 2018.
Prediction: Arizona 54-24 (3-0)
SAT 9/22, Oregon State (road): The Beavers were really bad last season and don’t figure to be much better this year under new coach, former OSU QB Jonathan Smith. The goal for Arizona in this one is to jump out to an early lead, then run the ball and milk the clock in the second half. With a home date against USC the following Saturday, Arizona relies on defense, not style points, to hold on to their first win in Corvallis since 2009. At this point, the Wildcats crack the top-25 heading into a season-altering matchup in late-September.
Prediction: Arizona 27-17 (4-0, 1-0)
SAT 9/29, USC (home): There was a lot of hope going into the L.A. Coliseum last November but Arizona’s comeback hit a wall in the 4th quarter. Fortunately for the Wildcats, QB Sam Darnold and RB Ronald Jones II aren’t around to terrorize UofA any longer. I’ll go out on a limb and say that ESPN’s College Gameday makes its way to Tucson for this one…and the game will be nationally televised on ABC at 5pm local time. Lee Corso will once again put on the Wilbur head and without a doubt, it’ll be the biggest home game for Arizona since UCLA in 2015. But this time, with a new coach and a Heisman-worthy QB, the Wildcats won’t screw it up. Tate throws for 300+ and runs for another 150 in a performance that immediately vaults him to the top of Heisman voters’ early ballots. The excitement for Arizona’s football program will reach levels unseen since the 1990s and that includes AZ’s successes in 2009 and 2014. Enjoy the week of overhype, players and fans!
Prediction: Arizona 41-34 (5-0, 2-0)
SAT 10/6, California (home): Last year the teams played an incredible 45-44 double OT thriller which the Wildcats held on to by virtue of LB Colin Schooler’s break up of a two-point conversion attempt to win the game. This year Arizona won’t be as fortunate. Tate goes down in the first half with a leg injury and doesn’t return. The Bears defense sells out on the run and forces the freshman QB, Doyle to beat them. He just isn’t ready for the spotlight. In typical Arizona fashion, they lose a game as they’re on the verge of a top-10 ranking.
Prediction: Cal 27-20 (5-1, 2-1)
FRI 10/12, Utah (road): With Khalil Tate missing the game on a short week due to injury, Arizona struggles to move the ball effectively against a stout Utes defense. Kyle Whittingham’s team isn’t better than Arizona by any means, but losing Tate makes all the difference in what should be a low-scoring, ugly game.
Prediction: Utah 20-13 (5-2, 2-2)
SAT 10/20, UCLA (road): Tate comes back and finally gets a win in front of his hometown fans. The Bruins will be special under new coach Chip Kelly within the next 2-3 years but they aren’t there yet. In fact, I’d be surprised if they ended up much better than 7-5 in 2018. Look for a big day on the ground from Tilford and Taylor with a late interception by CB Jace Whitaker preserving the important road victory for UA.
Prediction: Arizona 34-30 (6-2, 3-2)
SAT 10/27, Oregon (home): It’s Homecoming in Tucson with a chance to stay atop the Pac-12 South Division with a win. Justin Herbert might become a fine NFL QB and on this day, he’ll show the Tucson fans why he will be a 1st round selection in the 2019 draft. The Wildcats mount a furious rally but fall short in a loss which appears to end Tate’s Heisman Trophy hopes.
Prediction: Oregon 48-42 (6-3, 3-3)
FRI 11/2, Colorado (home): On a short week coming off a tough loss, who knows what to expect from UA? Last year Tate shredded the Buffaloes for 327 rushing yards after relieving an injured Brandon Dawkins midway through the first quarter. While CU will limit Tate to less than half of last year’s damage on the ground, they won’t be able to outscore the Wildcats’ potent offense. Could this loss seal Mike McIntyre’s fate in Boulder?
Prediction: Arizona 41-35 (7-3, 4-3)
SAT 11/17, Washington State (away): The only prediction about this game that I’m confident in is that the weather will be cold and lousy in Pullman. In that case, it’ll be very tough for the Wildcats to win there, right? Not so much. I just don’t think WSU will be all that great this season. Arizona’s defense records two turnovers and the ‘Cats head into their Territorial Cup finale with a good chance to win the South Division (after USC’s surprising loss to UCLA).
Prediction: Arizona 34-24 (8-3, 5-3)
SAT 11/24, Arizona State (home): Do you think I would actually pick against Kevin Sumlin in his first rivalry game against Herm Edwards? No chance. Tate makes up for missing last season’s 2nd half with an MVP-like performance…320 yards passing, 135 rushing, and 4 combined TDs. In what turns into a shootout yet again between these teams, Arizona scores late to put them comfortably ahead and ensure that the Territorial Cup returns to Tucson. The Wildcats also win the South Division for the second time in five seasons!
Prediction: Arizona 42-31 (9-3, 6-3)
Pac-12 Championship Game vs. Washington: Much like this game’s result in 2014 when Oregon spanked Arizona, the Wildcats get a dose of humble pie from a Huskies team who is once again a Final Four contender. Not going to be many positives from this one…though the following week Khalil Tate finishes 7th in the Heisman voting (if that’s considered somewhat of a positive…)
Prediction: Washington 45-20 (9-4)
Bowl Game, Alamo vs. Texas: The Wildcats haven’t played in this bowl game since 2010 when they were stomped by Oklahoma State. While this one won’t be a blowout, the Pac-12 Championship Game hangover is real and the Wildcats can’t stop the Longhorns’ passing attack. Tate throws for 400+ yards in what is his final collegiate game before turning pro…but for the second season in-a-row, Arizona ends their season on a multi-game losing streak.
Prediction: Texas 38-30 (9-5)