Just a little insight to my positive outlook for the 2017 season.
Going back to the 2015 season first. Coming off a great year even with the disappointing Fiesta Bowl loss we had some positive direction and momentum moving into 2015. We can refect all the way back to 1998 and a very high preseason ranking coming off the best season ever in our history. We finished 12-1 and were ranked 4th in the AP. The problem? Was glaringly obvious in the opener. We had lost 4 of the best OL guys to ever wear the Arizona uniform. We did not have the horses up front. Jump back to 2015. We had a hole in the middle of our OL. We had no C! Few would argue that that C is the key piece in the OL. We were able to compete and win most of the games we should have, but we killed ourselves each week with terrible turnovers. Many coming from bad snaps. Look at the UCLA game where we spotted the Bruins 28 points from bad snaps. Even with the bad year we were still able to go bowling. Enough said on 2015.
Jump forward to 2016. Just 2 weeks prior to the start of the season we lose in the worst way possible our starting OL center piece. Yes our C! There was a lot of emotion and heartache that played on the minds of this team throughout the season. Our blocking was again not what it needed to be. Then the injuries began. Even at this point while we struggled and lost to BYU on a late FG, and barely won over Grambling State, it was obvious the problems were there. Hawaii was just no match. Washington was good enought to play in the playoffs and yet we almost got them at home. I point to this and the next 2 games to show that we are far from the last place team in the PAC South. Washington beat us in OT. Then came UCLA. We stayed with UCLA for much of the first half. The difference? We had lost a super little playmaker in JJ Taylor to a season ending injury. First Wilson, then Taylor. We had lost Anu as well at that point. Our OL was experiencing more losses due to injury as well. With a thin D on the field most of the game, UCLA pulled away easily in the second half. Utah was a repeat of the UCLA game. We continued to lose players. Following the Utah game we had 28 players list on the injury roster. Yes some played, but they were not 100%. ST were not the best to start with, but really fell off as the injuries began to pile up. Our second team who would normally run ST was now starting in many positions and we had younger players and many walk ons running ST. ST then began to add to the problem by continually putting us in poor field position on both sides of the ball. Everything snow balled from there. It seems as though many of the players and even the team kinda gave up at that point. The injuries did not stop there and even with a guy like Tate we could not overcome the issues. Tate was only 17 at the time and had little time to do much of anything. After that we even had to play a former JC TE at QB. The season was not yet lost as we began to get a few players back and had our rivalry game to finish up the year. I believe we took out a few frustrations on the tempe normal team.
Loss of our OL captain. We have an awesome OL returning this year and we hope to keep them healthy!
Loss of many players due to injury. If we had not lost Wilson, we may not have known how big a loss JJ Taylor was. With Taylor in the line up we held our own with Washington. Without him we could not hold onto the ball. The D played heavy minutes and that cost us! JJ Taylor is back! Wilson is back! Green showed some real improvement. We recruited well at RB. We have a full stable of quality guys that are healthy.
ST got worse as we moved to replace the injured players. Without the injuries we will return to the normal guys on ST. Add in that we have a dedicated ST coach now. A good one at that. We also add some new kickers.
Our D was not big or deep and yet we also had injuries there as well. We played a number of freshmen last year and will benefit fro, that this year. We have that experience plus several players used a RS season to build up strength and learn tbe system. Our DBs should be solid even in their youth. Our LBs will be young but very talented. While we were running a 3-3-5, we have now shifted to a 4-2-5. Difference? We are basically dropping a hybrid LB/DE down for extra pressure and run support. Then playing the extra S (hybrid S/LB) as a 3rd LB that can drop into coverage. We were thin last year and depleted with injuries. This year look for more aggression from the D. Yates switching back to DBs and adding a real LBs coach will play big dividends. I know that some say we are too young, but I see a better talent level 8n the current LBs on our roster!
Healthy strong OL!
Healthy strong stable of RBs!
Little more depth for ST and a dedicated position coach plus two new kickers.
Coaching changes on D and better talent at LBs and DBs. Bigger and healthier at DL.
Looking the schedule based on our performances against Washington, and the first half of the UCLA and Utah games, we could very well be just that good. We should be able to compete in every game we take the field this year! We could potentially winn 11 games as we don't face Stanford or Washington this year.
I am not saying we will, but the 7-9 win window is wide open! And RR loves the role of the underdog!