The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 65 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.
In past years when Arizona’s defense returned a majority of its starters it meant the Wildcats were a preseason top 25 team. This season, with 20 different players who have started at least one game returning, even the Wildcat coaches are in a wait-and-see attitude.
That’s what happens when a defense is ranked No. 118 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams and yields 499 yards and 35 points a game such as the UA did last season.
Arizona lists the only defensive starter not returning as defensive end Dominique Austin, who registered only 14 tackles in six games last season because of a foot injury.
Of the 20 returners who started at least one game, only seven are seniors. Five of those players have double-digit starts in their careers: cornerback Shaquille Richardson (24), nose guard Sione Tuihalamaka (23), linebacker Marquis Flowers (23), linebacker Jake Fischer (21) and defensive end Justin Washington (18).
Fischer and junior safety Jared Tevis (11 starts last season) were All-Pac-12 honorable mention selections last year. Tra’Mayne Bondurant, a junior safety with 18 career starts, was a 2011 honorable-mention selection. They are the only defensive players honored by the conference among the group of 20 returning.
The Wildcats — known for their defense in the past with the likes of Ricky Hunley, Chuck Cecil and the Desert Swarm — have only one first-team all-conference selection in the last five seasons. Defensive end Brooks Reed earned that honor in 2010.
|ARIZONA’s DEFENSIVE ALL-PAC-10/12
FIRST TEAM SELECTIONS
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Arizona had at least one defensive player selected to the All-Pac-10 first team in 20 of the first 23 seasons from when the Wildcats joined in 1978. That span lasted through Dick Tomey’s last season at Arizona in 2000.
From 2001 to 2012 — under mostly John Mackovic and Mike Stoops — the Arizona defense produced at least one first-team selection in only six seasons. That’s alarming especially with Stoops coming to Tucson after coaching the Oklahoma defense.
Stoops produced only four different first-team selections in his eight seasons: Darrell Brooks, cornerback, 2005; Antoine Cason, cornerback, 2006 and 2007; Spencer Larsen, linebacker, 2007; and Reed. By comparison, Larry Smith produced nine different first-teamers in seven seasons (1980-86) and Tomey produced 18 in 14 seasons (1987-2000).
The Wildcats are in a two-year drought without a first-team selection, the third time that’s happened since 2002. Arizona has never endured three consecutive years without a first-team selection.
Arizona’s defensive players must prove the preseason prognosticators wrong to avoid that three-year drought. None of the significant preseason publications — Lindy’s, The Sporting News, Athlon and Phil Steele magazine — list a UA defender among its first- or second-team All-Pac-12 selections.
UA defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel will attempt to rectify a defense that ranked in the bottom half of the league in interceptions (10th with 12 interceptions), sacks (12th, 16), red-zone defense (ninth, 83.9 percent), opponent first downs (12th, 339) and third-down defense (ninth, 43.7 percent).
With practically the entire defense returning, the Wildcats are bound to improve because of their experience and their acclimation to Casteel’s 3-3-5 defensive formation.
“I think we’re all a little more comfortable with them as players and they are a little more comfortable with us as coaches than we were this time last year,” Casteel told ESPN.com. “At this point it’s about getting bigger, stronger and faster. I think we’re seeing that. We were a small football team last year. We’re not where we want to be. But I’m excited to get them back in the fall and see what we can do.”
The best No. 65 to wear the Arizona uniform is defensive tackle Ken Hakes (1986-89). He led the UA linemen with 72 tackles in 1989.
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.