Cover photo: Arizona football players hoist The Territorial Cup after defeating Tempe Normal School 38-35.
Cover photo credit: Christian Peterson, Getty Images
I should start by bringing attention to the fact that my record prediction was correct. No, I did not get the individual games exactly correct, but my prediction of 5-7 was spot-on. My only regret is not putting money on it, as the Vegas odds for Arizona's season was only 2 wins.
Though Arizona did not make a bowl game, you cannot qualify the 2022 season as anything less than a success. They pulled themselves out of the cellar of a one-win season in 2021, and even had a program-defining upset win against #12 UCLA. They took care of business against inferior teams like San Diego State and Colorado, and gave Washington and USC all they could handle, losing by 10 to Washington and 8 to USC (Washington and USC finished the season #8 and #12, respectively).
Most importantly, the players that Arizona brought in during the offseason who were supposed to make big impacts did just that. High school recruits Tetairoa McMillan, Rayshon Luke, Jonah Coleman, Jonah Savaiinaea, and Wendell Moe all contributed heavily on an offense that was the most explosive in the country (Arizona ranked #1 in plays over 20 yards). On defense, Jacob Manu showed potential to be a top linebacker in the conference, while Ephesians Prysock, Russell Davis II, Tacario Davis, and Taitai Uiagalelei flashed at times as well. All of these players played a huge number of snaps as true freshman, meaning that they should have the experience necessary to be truly impactful early in their college careers which have only recently begun.
Recruiting the transfer portal was a resounding success as well. On defense, USC transfer edge rusher Hunter Echols was as strong of a leader as Arizona could have asked for, while UCLA transfer defensive lineman Tiaoalii Savea provided much needed stability on a defensive line that was among the worst in 2021. As impactful as these additions were, however, none were greater than the additions of Washington State transfer quarterback Jayden de Laura and UTEP transfer wide receiver Jacob Cowing. de Laura and Cowing were among the most explosive duos in college football this season, and both will be returning for 2023.
So the improvement from 2021 to 2022 was massive, but what will the improvement from 2022 to 2023 be like? Well, if recruiting is any indication, it seems that the improvement will continue. Arizona has addressed areas of need in a big way (that area being basically the entire defense) by bringing in transfers like linebacker Justin Flowe from Oregon (a former top 150 recruit of all time), former four-star defensive lineman Bill Norton from Georgia (yes, a defensive lineman from Georgia), former four-star defensive lineman Tyler Manoa from UCLA, and former four-star linebacker Daniel Heimuli from Washington. Arizona also looked to solve their defensive woes through high school recruiting as well, bringing in four-star linebacker Leviticus Su'a (the 2022 Trinity League MVP) and high three-star safety Genesis Smith.
The Wildcats still have a long road ahead of them before they can start competing for conference championships, but by all indications, they are well on their way there. I estimate that by 2024, Arizona will be a legitimate contender for the PAC-12 (or whatever the conference is called at that point) title, and will upset some teams in 2023. I also predict that Arizona will make a bowl appearance in 2023, something they have not done since 2017.
Overall, the future of the Arizona Wildcats football program is among the brightest in the country. The job that head coach Jedd Fisch and his staff has done has been nothing short of spectacular, especially considering what they were handed after the firing of former head coach Kevin Sumlin. I am very much looking forward to watching this team compete in the coming years, and if you've been paying any attention at all, you should be too.