Jedd Fisch has Arizona rising from the depths of the program’s lowest point. Entering the third season of Fisch’s tenure, the Wildcats have talent, depth and momentum on their side. They may even be decent on defense for once.
“It’s our best team,” Fisch said. “Our guys are going to go out there and play at a very, very high level. If they play at the level that I think we’re going to play at, I think we’re going to win a lot of games this year.” Fisch has changed the trajectory of a team that had become one of the worst in FBS.
The Wildcats were on a 12-game losing streak when Fisch was hired to replace Kevin Sumlin and it stretched to a record 20 games during his first season.
Despite finishing 1-11 in 2021, Fisch and his staff proved to be adept recruiters, pulling in one of the Pac-12’s best classes. The Wildcats made progress last season, finishing 5-7, and top recruits continued to flow into Tucson.
Now Arizona is poised to keep building.
The Wildcats have one of the Pac-12’s best quarterbacks in Jayden de Laura, a dynamic receiving duo in Jacob Cowing and Tetairoa McMillan, and productive running back Michael Wiley.
Arizona added several potential defensive starters through the transfer portal and the young players who got an opportunity to play last season will be more seasoned this year.
Maybe the defense won’t be at the same level as the high-scoring offense, but the Wildcats should be better on that side of the ball.
“We’ve got the opportunity to do something we haven’t done in a while around here,” Arizona cornerback Treydan Stukes said.
Arizona had a huge pick up when de Laura decided to transfer from Washington State last year.
The agile quarterback had a stellar first season in the desert, throwing for 3,685 yards — third-most in school history — and 25 touchdowns, though he also had 13 interceptions.
De Laura bulked up during the offseason, spent time at the Manning Passing Academy and was able to meet with a few NFL coaches, including Bill Belichick, Zac Taylor and Sean McVay.
“Being the older guy on the team, a lot of people look up to me and expect me to be that leader not just on the field, but off the field too,” de Laura said.
Arizona has had one of the FBS’s worst defenses for several years running but should be bigger and faster thanks to additions through the transfer portal.
The Wildcats landed linebacker Justin Flowe from Oregon and added heft up front with the addition of three 300-pounders: Bill Norton (Georgia), Tyler Manoa (UCLA) and Sio Nofoagatoto’a (Indiana). Arizona also added linebacker Daniel Heimuli (Washington), along with edge rusher Taylor Upshaw (Colorado).
The Wildcats also will have a dose of continuity with the return of Johnny Nansen after having five defensive coordinators since 2017.
“Where we had such a great challenge is that none of our kids over the course of the last eight years were able to play in the same system twice,” Fisch said. “When you can’t do that, you’re going to end up being in a situation where you’re never going to be as good as you possibly could be.”
Arizona lost top receiver Dorian Singer to Southern California, but Cowing and McMillan should more than make up for it.
The 5-foot-11 Cowing led the Pac-12 with 85 receptions last season and was fourth with 1,034 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. The 6-5 McMillan lived up to the hype as the highest-rated recruit in Arizona history, catching 39 passes for 702 yards and eight TDs.
Arizona kicks off its season at home against Northern Arizona, then heads to Mississippi State before closing out its nonconference season against UTEP.
The Wildcats have to play No. 6 USC on the road, but get No. 10 Washington at home. Their rivalry game against Arizona State will be on the road in the regular-season finale.