The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 87 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.
If it is true that games are won in the trenches, Arizona should have the experience in 2013 to achieve success or at the very least be competitive.
The Wildcats’ offensive and defensive lines have the most combined number of career starts — 70 on each side — among their returners.
Left tackle Mickey Baucus, a redshirt junior, and right tackle Fabbians Ebbele, a senior, each started all 13 games last season on the offensive line. Each have 25 career starts, a team-high total. Baucus has started in all 25 games that he’s played. Sione Tuihalamaka, a senior who started 10 games at nose guard last season, anchors the defensive line with 24 career starts.
Defensive backs (69) and linebackers (68) are close behind the linemen in career starts. Shaquille Richardson, a senior cornerback, also has 24 career starts.
Offensive returners have a total of 107 career starts while the defense has a combined number of 207. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel are hoping the experience on defense translates into an improved performance from last season, when the Wildcats ranked No. 118 out of 120 FBS teams in total defense (499 yards allowed per game).
Casteel introduced the 3-3-5 multiple-spread defense to Arizona’s returners last season in Rodriguez’s first year with Arizona.
“It used to be the opposite where it took offenses longer to develop,” Rodriguez said before the UA’s spring practice. “I think it’s harder to learn the ins and outs of a defensive than it is the other side of the ball.
“So that’s important and Coach Casteel and our defensive staff have a plan to teach the inner workings of our defense. We’re keeping it really simple this spring, even though a lot of our guys are back. We want them to know the why and not just the where.”
ARIZONA CAREER STARTS
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The Wildcats have 18 players on defense, including seven defensive backs, who have at least started one game. The linebackers feature two players with more than 20 starts — seniors Jake Fischer (21 starts) and Marquis Flowers (23). Defensive end Justin Washington, who started nine games a freshman, returns for his senior year after only nine starts in his last two seasons.
“We knew were going to struggle defensively last year,” Rodriguez told ESPN.com in an interview last month. “We know there are times we will struggle this year simply because we don’t have the size and experience that we need, but we do expect to be significantly better simply because those guys have experience.
“They know what they need to do. It’s the second year in the system and frankly I think we’ll have better competition either from the incoming class or the guys who were redshirted last year. We have more guys we have defensively who we think can help us out.”
Although Ebbele and Baucus lead an experienced offensive line, they will be blocking for the most inexperienced position on the team — the quarterback.
B.J. Denker, a senior, is the only returning quarterback with starting experience at Arizona and that was against last-place Colorado last season while regular starter Matt Scott nursed a concussion. Former USC quarterback Jesse Scroggins and highly-touted recruit Anu Solomon will compete with Denker for the starting position in fall camp, which is less than two months away.
“It’s not so much about finding a starter, it’s about finding guys we can win with,” Rodriguez said. “We hope to find two or three at every position. I don’t know if we’re there yet, it may take us a couple years recruiting and development to get to that point.
“At quarterback, we’re looking for two or three guys we can win with. And I don’t know if we have that. That’s a question. I don’t know if we’ll have that answer after spring. We do have some guys I’m looking forward to working with and the competition gets enhanced in August.”
The best No. 87 to play for Arizona? No question about it: Two-time All-Pac-10 linebacker Chris Singleton, one of the most inspirational players to ever wear the Arizona uniform. In 1990, he donated bone marrow to his twin brother, Kevin Singleton, another standout linebacker who was diagnosed with leukemia.
Chris Singleton had 1 1/2 quarts of bone marrow removed through seven needles inserted into each hip. He was a first-round pick of the New England Patriots a few months after the surgery. During the procedure, Chris spent every night in the hospital with his brother.
“Without a doubt, it was the scariest time of my life, of our lives,” Chris told the L.A. Times in a 1997 interview. “I just never knew if he would recover or die.”
After spending 40 days in the hospital, Kevin was released and he gradually worked his way back into playing shape. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility and served as Arizona’s captain in 1990.
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.