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Arizona Wildcats football: Season prediction

Rich Rodriguez should do about the same amount of celebrating this season. Photo by J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Rich Rodriguez should do about the same amount of celebrating this season. Photo by J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Rich Rodriguez has lit the fuse and the countdown has begun.

Five, four, three … 2014.

The 2013 season kicks off tonight with a home game against NAU, and I see this as a treading water kind of year. Holding steady after a 7-5 regular-season record and New Mexico Bowl victory in Rodriguez’s debut season would be just fine.

Continue to develop RichRod’s first two recruiting classes. Enjoy Ka’Deem Carey while you can. Wait for talented newcomers to arrive/be eligible next season. Beat the teams you should beat in 2013.

Not the sexiest slogan for this season, but if that last part happens, then the Wildcats should be back at 7-5 while waiting for the Rodriguez Express to start selling tickets to Pasadena.

I like what Pac-12 Networks analyst Rick Neuheisel told me this month: “I hope nobody loses sight that this is going to grow and grow fast.”

He, too, was talking about 2014.

I’m not into picking the winner of each game of the season — it’s hard enough doing one game 24 hours before kickoff, let alone several weeks from now — but let’s take a big-picture approach.

In a number I completely just made up, I give the Wildcats a 96.8 percent chance of going 3-0 in the non-conference schedule. Turning to the Pac-12 season, from this distance, it looks as if Arizona should be favored to win four times in a five-game stretch from mid-October to mid-November: Utah, at Colorado, at Cal, Washington State.

So, let’s stick with a four-win conference season and a 7-5 regular-season record, while considering the Arizona State game at the end a toss-up.

Opening league play on the road at Washington and USC isn’t ideal, but the only team on UA’s schedule that appears too far out of reach is Oregon. The Pac-12 South is wide open, apparently even more so after USC puttered on offense at Hawaii with its new quarterbacks Thursday night.

The Trojans, at least, have a chance to be great on defense. Arizona? Not great, but better. I think the defense will surprise and be a playmaking unit while the Cats’ offense takes a step back without Matt Scott.

The tepid expectations are all about the quarterback. It’s hard to be a great team while hoping to be merely average at quarterback … whoever it might be.

Does B.J. Denker have the arm strength to threaten defenses down the field, or will this turn into a dink-and-Denker offense?

Can the higher-ceiling Jesse Scroggins show he can run the offense with tempo and efficiency?

Can redshirt freshman Javelle Allen extend his late-camp improvement?

Whatever happens at quarterback this season, it’s easy to project the situation being better in 2014, when true freshman Anu Solomon will have had a year in the system and Texas transfer Connor Brewer becomes eligible to join Scroggins and Allen.

Recruiting is booming. The Lowell-Stevens Football Facility is complete. Arizona has the coach, the buildings, the buzz, the emerging talent to do something special.

So, yes, the countdown has begun … to 2014.

Arizona Stadium view

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