The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 91 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.
While Arizona Stadium undergoes a makeover, Rich Rodriguez and his staff are trying to reconstruct the talent base at Arizona.
The difficult transition from the firing of Mike Stoops in 2011 to where Rodriguez is at with his pool of players now is obvious with Wednesday’s release of Phil Steele’s preseason All-Pac-12 team. The only UA player listed on the first or second team is junior running back Ka’Deem Carey.
Steele, a long-time college football analyst, knows his stuff as well as anybody. He was on the air recently as a guest on Sirius/XM’s College Sports Nation, while I drove to Los Angeles. The captivating information livened up a usually boring drive.
Callers who were fans of different schools called in and Steele answered each question without hesitation with a full rundown of every team with the information off the tip of his tongue.
Steele’s rating of Arizona’s top talent means that Rodriguez and his staff must continue to work their magic, like they showed last year in an unlikely 8-5 season, to get the most out of the talent-strapped Wildcats.
Steele’s preseason All-Pac-12 selections included not only the first team and second team but four teams. Arizona has seven players listed, ranking eighth among conference teams. Only Cal (five), Washington State (five), Utah (four) and Colorado (two) have less.
Three Wildcats are on the third team (linebacker Jake Fischer, safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant and punt returner Richard Morrison). Three are also on the fourth team (offensive tackle Mickey Baucus, linebacker Marquis Flowers and cornerback Shaquille Richardson).
If wide receiver Austin Hill was healthy — he is out indefinitely (perhaps the entire season) while rehabbing his torn ACL injury — he would be a first-team selection.
Other Wildcats who are deserving of recognition — who may get their due respect by the end of the 2013 season — were omitted from Steele’s list of four teams.
— Offensive right tackle Fabbians Ebbele. He is a beast at 6-foot-8 and 309 pounds. Ebbele and Baucus started all 13 games at the tackle positions in 2012. They and senior guard Chris Putton (10-game starter at both guard positions last year) provide the line a strong nucleus for Carey and the undetermined new starting quarterback.
— Free safety Jourdan Grandon. He started nine games and played in 12 overall last year, recording 55 tackles (41 solo and 14 assisted). His best game was in the rout over Washington with one interception for 29 return yards, six passes broken up, one forced fumble and one
fumble recovery. He also had career-high 12 tackles against Oregon State and Stanford. With Grandon, Bondurant, Richardson, junior cornerback Jonathon McKnight and junior safety Jared Tevis, Arizona’s defensive secondary should be one of the best units of the team.
— McKnight played in all 13 games and started nine times at cornerback last season. He returned three interceptions for 71 yards, including a 48-yard score in the 59-38 win over No. 18 Oklahoma State. He also broke up four passes and recovered one fumble. He posted career- and season-high 11 tackles in the 39-36 win against No. 10 USC.
— Tevis, a former walk-on from Canyon del Oro High School, started and played in 11 games at the “bandit” position in Arizona’s 3-3-5 defense. He missed two games and playing time with an ankle injury. He was an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention selection. He was No. 3 on the team in total tackles with 82, including 51 solo. He had two interceptions, six passes broken up and four forced fumbles. Both interceptions came in the 59-38 win over Oklahoma State.
— Defensive end Justin Washington. The former Sporting News Freshman All-American enters his senior season with much to prove if he desires to play at the next level. He missed Arizona’s first five games last season for violating an unspecified team rule. Washington’s nine starts in the last two seasons (including only three last year) equaled his number of starts as a freshman in 2010. He followed his stellar freshman season nursing a knee injury in week six and had a severe allergic reaction to a pregame meal at the Alamo Bowl.
Interesting to note that most of Steele’s selections and the hopefuls listed above are on defense, where Arizona struggled the most last season.
The best No. 91 to play for Arizona? Anthony Gimino of TucsonCitizen.com selects defensive end Eli Wnek (1998-2001). Gimino writes: “(Wnek) did whatever was asked (DE, TE, FB) and was nationally recognized for his community service and academics.”
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.