Grading Rich Rodriguez Through Year Three


In just three years, Rich Rodriguez has turned things around for a struggling Arizona program. Once known as the bottom feeder of the Pac-10, Rodriguez has now made Arizona a contender not only in the Pac-12, but on the national stage as well.

From building a national contender at West Virginia, to struggling mightily at Michigan (which we now know isn’t his fault), he was given the task of rebuilding Arizona, coming off just a four-win season prior to his arrival.

In his first season, Rodriguez was able to work with Matt Scott, Ka’Deem Carey, Austin Hill and Dan Buckner, running his no-huddle offense to perfection. The defense also held their own, led by juniors Marquis Flower, Tevin Hood, Jake Fischer, Shaq Richardson and Jared Tevis.

Rich Rod managed to win seven regular season games that year in one of the must brutal schedules in the country. He had two statement games that year, putting the rest of the Pac-12 on watch.

The first came in Week Two against #18 Oklahoma State, where Arizona jumped on top fast and never let up, throwing down 59 points. The next came on a warm October day against #10 USC. Matt Barkley and Marquis Lee had a field day, setting records left and right, but couldn’t put the Wildcats away. With a bid top the New Mexico Bow, the Wildcats were down early and big to Nevada.

The rest is history. Here’s the final two minutes of the game for you to relive the moment.

In year two, gone was Scott and Buckner to the NFL and Hill was out with a torn ACL. In came junior college transfer and walk-on, BJ Denker at quarterback. He was accompanied by two freshmen receivers; four-star Samajie Grant out of Compton, California and two-star receiver Nate Phillips out of Chandler. After leading the nation in rushing, Carey was back for his junior campaign with one thing on his mind, the Heisman trophy.

The way the Pac-12 South stacked up, it was going to be hard for Arizona to really move or down, which explains the 7-5 regular season record once again. Perhaps the biggest win in college football that season, Arizona spanked the #5 Oregon Ducks in Tucson, another signature win for Rodriguez.

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A bid to the AdvoCare V100 Bowl matched them up against Boston College and Andre Williams, who was awarded then Doak Walker Trophy, given to best running back. Carey didn’t take that too kindly. In a blow out win, Carey led the way in a perfectly called game by his head coach. This was where we saw the emergence of sophomores Willy Parks on defense and Trey Griffey on offense.

Another year, another quarterback for Rodriguez in his third year, this time it was finally his own recruit. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon won the quarterback battle and was set to go.

There were a lot of questions about the offense and how a freshman quarterback could play without Carey in the backfield. Solomon silenced those questions in game one against UNLV.

Throughout the season, this was the year of last second finishes at Arizona Stadium; a Hail Mary for the win against Cal, a missed field goal by Casey Skowron against USC, only to later redeem himself against Washington. And then, wouldn’t you know it, the Cats traveled to Oregon and beat them, again. Perhaps the cherry on top was beating Arizona State to reclaim the Cup and win the Pac-12 South.

Beating a top team three times in 13 months is no easy task and the third time was the charm for Oregon, who handled Arizona easily in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Now, there’s a Fiesta Bowl coming up on New Years Eve and apparently Arizona is in it. For the Boise State Broncos, it will be their third trip in nine years.

A 10-win season and a top 10 finish are quite the accomplishments in year three of this rebuild. With such a young team in place, Rodriguez has a lot to work with in the next coming years.

Going 26-13 in three years will certainly get your name brought up for some of the top coaching jobs in the country, but Rodriguez hasn’t budged. He’s here to stay and will continue building the program he has now made relevant in Tucson and across the country.