Arizona Wildcats coach Rodriguez faced with QB controversies half of major-college career



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The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 14 days away (two weeks from today). 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.

RELATED LINK: A look at Arizona’s quarterback competitions in the Pac-10/12 years

Rich Rodriguez has five weeks to find a starting quarterback by the time the Pac-12 season starts at Washington on Sept. 28.

Rich Rodriguez has five weeks to find a starting quarterback by the time the Pac-12 season starts at Washington on Sept. 28.

During fall camp before his first season at Michigan in 2008, Rich Rodriguez confronted daily media throngs totaling more than 30 who asked about the intense quarterback competition between highly-touted redshirt freshman Steven Threet and former walk-on Nick Sheridan.

Rodriguez came from West Virginia, where his spread offense was run to perfection by the fleet-footed Pat White. Threet and Sheridan, both Michigan natives, were welcomed into the program as pocket passers by previous coach Lloyd Carr.

One reporter asked Rodriguez how confident he was about his wide-open offense succeeding with the Wolverines without a quarterback like White behind center. His response:

“I’m pretty confident that I’ll still be coaching here for a while.”

“A while” was only three seasons in Ann Arbor with each of them including a quarterback controversy. No continuity translated into a lack of stability. Before Rodriguez could build a base at the most important position on the field, he was sent packing.

Rodriguez is no stranger to these much-publicized quarterback competitions. In his second season at Arizona and 12th overall as a major-college head coach, he is faced with having to decide upon a starter for the sixth time.

Here’s a recap:

— Sheridan won the starting role heading into Michigan’s 2008 season, but Threet, who transferred back home from Georgia Tech, eventually took over for the struggling Sheridan and started eight games. Justin Feagin, a senior, was a possibility when fall camp started but was relegated to the No. 3 role the entire season.

— Rodriguez signed dual-threat athletes Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson in his 2009 recruiting class. Threet saw the writing on the wall and transferred to Arizona State. Rodriguez chose Forcier as his starting quarterback in 2009 over Robinson and Sheridan, a senior that year. Rodriguez stuck with Forcier, only the third true freshman quarterback to start at Michigan, as his signal-caller in all 12 games.

— Forcier lost his starting role to Robinson in 2010 as early as spring practice. By the time the season started, Forcier was the No. 3 quarterback behind Robinson and freshman Devin Gardner. Forcier spelled Robinson occasionally in 2010 and was critical in a couple of Michigan’s victories, but Robinson became Rodriguez’s man. He was chosen the Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Rodriguez could not groom Robinson further, however, because Michigan fired him after a 7-6 season and 15-22 overall record with the Wolverines.

–In his second season at West Virginia in 2002, Rodriguez had the easiest quarterback decision to make, going with sophomore Rasheed Marshall over freshman Danny Embrick. Marshall was an understudy to incumbent senior quarterback Brad Lewis in Rodriguez’s first season with the Mountaineers in 2001. Marshall was Rodriguez’s starter for three years, leading West Virginia to a bowl each season.

–Rodriguez’s first highly-competitive quarterback controversy was in 2005, when he opted to utilize a two-quarterback system with the Mountaineers. Adam Bednarik, a sophomore, started the Mountaineers’ first seven games, but White was used often as West Virginia began that season 6-1 and ranked 18th in the country. White became the starter in the eighth game and was Rodriguez’s guy for the remainder of Rodriguez’s career there, a total of 30 starts from 2005 through 2007. White was 26-4 as the starting quarterback.

Rodriguez went from that ideal stability with White to his turbulent existence with Michigan starting immediately by having to choose from Carr’s leftovers in 2008. Having four different starting quarterbacks in three years at Michigan — Sheridan, Threet, Forcier and Robinson — contributed to his demise.

Fortunately for Rodriguez, former Arizona coach Mike Stoops and his staff talked Matt Scott into redshirting as a senior in 2010 because Nick Foles was the decisive starter that season. They did not want the cupboard bare in 2011. Stoops was fired and Rodriguez took over with Scott, a dual-threat quarterback who could master Rodriguez’s spread offense, ready to make the transition smooth.

Arizona's B.J. Denker (7) and Jesse Scroggins (1) are two possible favorites for the starting quarterback role (Arizona Athletics video capture)

Arizona’s B.J. Denker (7) and Jesse Scroggins (1) are two possible favorites for the starting quarterback role (Arizona Athletics video capture)

Rodriguez heads into this season having to decide between primarily senior B.J. Denker and junior Jesse Scroggins, both junior college transfers who are untested for a whole season at the FBS level. Louisiana Tech transfer Nick Isham, a non-scholarship sophomore, is also in the mix with seven career starts and 10 games played with the Bulldogs in 2011.

In the last week, redshirt freshman Javelle Allen has taken reps with the first team. Some media who have attended most of the practices claim that highly-touted freshman Anu Solomon is a redshirt candidate.

Rodriguez has not been forthcoming of Solomon’s situation or who is the leader for the starting role because everything remains uncertain through the first two weeks of camp.

One thing is clear: When Rodriguez is forced to decide upon a starter (the 2002 season excluded with West Virginia when Marshall was the obvious choice), his record is 26-23. That includes the Mountaineers’ 11-1 season in 2005 when White and Bednarik co-existed harmoniously.

This season will mark the sixth consecutive season in which Rodriguez will have a different quarterback as his leading passer. That dates to White in 2007, followed by Threet (2008), Forcier (2009), Robinson (2010) and Scott (2012).

Patience will carry Rodriguez and Arizona’s fan base through its current situation. He must decide whether he builds for today with upper classmen Denker and Scroggins or look to the future for continuity with Isham, Allen or Solomon.

College football is not what it was in 1980 when Larry Smith threw caution to the wind and stuck with freshman quarterback Tom Tunnicliffe midway through that season to build for a better tomorrow.

The game has more billions of dollars, enhanced facilities, tremendous TV exposure and widespread social media that increases the pressure to succeed now.

The difficulty with that is not many young quarterbacks can save the day like Pat White did for Rodriguez in 2005.

“I hope to have two or three ready to win with and if they are equal we’ll play them both and if one is better then we’ll play him,” Rodriguez said recently about his quarterback situation.

At least he said that to only a handful of reporters at Arizona, not the media circus that encompasses Michigan. Time is on his side in Tucson.

Here’s a look at Rodriguez’s leading passers in his 11-year major-college coaching career:

WEST VIRGINIA (2001-2007)
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MICHIGAN (2008-10)
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ARIZONA (2012-Present)
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The best Arizona player to wear No. 14, according to TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino, is running back Eddie Wolgast (1945, 1947-50). At all of about 150 pounds, Wolgast rushed for 2,022 yards, including 133 in the 1949 Salad Bowl. He got an extra year of eligibility because of World War II.


Last year, this site and TucsonCitizen.com ran a Top 50 Games in the history of Arizona football series. I will relive that list here with less than 50 days to kickoff and add one game to it: Arizona’s improbable 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl last December, which landed as No. 38 on the list. Note, after clicking on the link, you will notice last year’s ranking. The list on this page is the current ranking.

No. 14: UA upsets No. 2 UCLA in 1980 when Bruins appeared ready to be No. 1

No. 15: L.A. Times reporter: Arizona shows “fight of wildcats” in 1914 game vs. Occidental

No. 16: UA leads UCLA late in third quarter but loses big in 12-1 season

No. 17: Unranked Arizona upsets Ohio State, Woody Hayes in Buckeyes’ 1967 opener in Columbus

No. 18: Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968

No. 19: Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie

No. 20: Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter

No. 21: Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure

No. 22: Arizona wins its first bowl behind “Heat-seeking Missile” Chuck Cecil

No. 23: Collapse vs. Utah after leading 27-0 in fourth quarter changed the face of UA football

No. 24: UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach

No. 25: Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma

No. 26: UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch

No. 27: Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU

No. 28: UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats

No. 29: Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era

No. 30: Arizona’s win on last-second FG over ASU ends Frank Kush’s dominance in the series

No. 31: Arizona reaches its zenith under Mike Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl

No. 32: Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run

No. 33: Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts

No. 34: ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight

No. 35: Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game

No. 36: Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU

No. 37: USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson

No. 38: Arizona Wildcats’ comeback against Nevada No. 38 in Top 50 games list

No. 39: Arizona shows signs of life under Mike Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA

No. 40: Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns

No. 41: Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time

No. 42: Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU

No. 43: Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA

No. 44: Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics

No. 45: Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally

No. 46: Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason

No. 47: “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish

No. 48: Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech

No. 49: Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State

No. 50: Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal

Dropped out: Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians

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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.


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