Pac-12 Networks analyst Rick Neuheisel was in Tucson recently to scout the Arizona Wildcats camp. I caught up with him briefly after practice and later in a phone interview.
Here is some of what we talked about:
–The big-picture outlook for Arizona this season:
“I think if they can make a bowl game, it will be a successful season for them. They have a chance to get off to a good start and get an inexperienced quarterback up to speed before they head at Seattle (to open conference play at Washington),” Neuheisel said.
“It’s just that they’re missing playmakers — the loss of (Austin) Hill, the loss of (Dan) Buckner, the loss to (Matt) Scott. Unless somebody blossoms before our eyes, teams will gang up on Ka’Deem Carey.
“If they can get to seven wins and get to a bowl game, they’re right in line with the progress Rich Rodriguez wants to make.”
Neuheisel added that 2014 could be the season that the Wildcats begin to really flourish under RichRod.
“I hope nobody loses sight that this is going to grow and grow fast,” he said.
–Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher in 2012:
“To borrow from the head coach’s description of it, it looks violent,” Neuheisel said of Carey’s running style. “He runs like he’s trying to hurt someone before they get him down. It’s an aggressive, aggressive style. It’s fun to watch.”
This season will be different for Carey in that he is the clear No. 1 option that defenses must stop. Opponents that focused too much on Carey last season paid the price, because Scott was able to beat them through the air, throwing to guys like Hill and Buckner.
Neuheisel said Arizona’s new starting quarterback, presumably B.J. Denker, will have to take advantage of the extra defensive personnel devoted to stopping Carey.
“The thing Ka’Deem is going to do for the new quarterback is he’s going to limit a lot of the coverage options, because defenses are going to gang up, and when they gang up, they are going to create space outside,” Neuheisel said.
“That is going to allow a new quarterback to not have to make a lot of reads. Defenses are going to say, ‘Let the quarterback beat us outside.’ If one of these (receivers) becomes a hero and can get off man coverage, then you have a lot of space to run it after you catch it.”
–On if he would put a ceiling on Arizona’s potential because of its inexperience at quarterback:
“I would, but there are too many examples in the RichRod era that first-year quarterbacks have flourished. Not just done well, they’re flourished. Last year, Matt Scott in this offense was phenomenal. Denard Robinson at Michigan was phenomenal as a freshman,” Neuheisel said.
“So I don’t put it past somebody rising to that level in a year one in this offense because there are so many answers to what defenses do. It’s just the ability to make quick decisions and make accurate decisions.”
–On Arizona’s new Lowell-Stevens Football Facility after getting a tour:
“It’s a fabulous tribute to all who came before this group. They helped build this,” Neuheisel said.
“RichRod says it best when he says there is a real and genuine commitment to the football program. I coached at a school some might consider a basketball school at UCLA, and I know Arizona has a great and rich basketball tradition, but for the football coach, it’s important to be able to say the football team has an identity.”
–On if he likes Oregon or Stanford to win the Pac-12:
“I’m picking Oregon. I think Stanford is going to miss those tight ends (Zach Ertz, Levine Toilolo) more than they think. They have (sophomore) Luke Kaumatule, but, to me, that is going to be a year process before they get up to speed (at tight end). And I don’t see a receiver on the Stanford roster that scares Pac-12 cornerbacks.
“(Quarterback) Kevin Hogan gives them a weapon with his legs, but he is going to need help from his tight ends and receivers.”