Arizona football at midseason: Patience required - Tucson News Now

Arizona football at midseason: Patience required

Rich Rodriguez (Photo courtesy of Jordan Glenn/Arizona Athletics) Rich Rodriguez (Photo courtesy of Jordan Glenn/Arizona Athletics)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

I'm just going to leave this here and then duck.

Patience, people.

I know. I know. College football and patience are not two things that often go together, and nobody wants to hear it. But Arizona isn't Oregon (been nice knowing you, Mark Helfrich) or, let's say, Michigan. Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez knows a thing or two about that.

In Tucson, at the University of Arizona, football time moves a bit more slowly. And that's OK.

Rodriguez is halfway through his fifth season, peaking with a Pac-12 South title in 2014, and that should be the currency that buys him the benefit of time through what is a difficult 2016 season that could be his least successful here.

Only the lunatic fringe thinks RichRod is on the coaching hot seat. But be prepared. With USC, Stanford, Washington State and suddenly-good Colorado coming up -- and UA's injury list getting longer -- things might get worse this season before it, possibly, gets better.

"It's not fun," Rodriguez said Wednesday. "Nobody wants to go through this. We have a lot of football left and we can win every game we have left."

Let's not get crazy here, Coach. Getting four victories out of the final six games just to get back to the lowest-level bowl would be a heck of an accomplishment. Right now, the odds are not in Arizona's favor.

Rodriguez is 35-24 overall and 18-21 in the Pac-12 while at Arizona, and if you have complaints about that conference mark, it's hard to argue. But keep in mind that the Wildcats had lost 11 of 13 conference games before athletic director Greg Byrne had to start over by hiring Rodriguez.

This season feels like a reboot, too.

Acknowledging recruiting deficiencies, Rodriguez replaced his entire defensive staff after last season, getting younger, hipper and far more active in the pursuit of a higher-cut of recruit.

In those terms, it's like Year 1, not Year 5. I'd argue that the new-look defense, while doing more to pass the eye test, hasn't yet yielded any better results. But, once again, I'd have to use the P-word ... patience, people.

"You want immediate results, and we have gotten them to some degree," Rodriguez said of the defense, led by first-year coordinator Marcel Yates. "It's just that we know we're going to be a whole lot better in the future, too. Not just next year, but in the next couple of years."

In the meantime, Rodriguez said the frustration of losing -- a 2-4 record and an 0-3 start to the Pac-12 season -- "eats away at you."

"It's like tiny bites," he said.

This year might not all that dissimilar to Dick Tomey's injury-filled 1991 season, which ended with a 4-7 record. His sixth season started 1-1-1, including an awful tie at an awful Oregon State team, before the Wildcats nearly pulled off an upset at No. 1 Miami. Arizona lost 8-7, but Desert Swarm was born that day.

I'm not saying THAT will happen next season for Rodriguez and the Cats, but, the point is, Tomey's launch point didn't come until the sixth season. Maybe the same will happen for Rodriguez. It might even take into his seventh year.

"There's not a lot of margin of error right now, and I don't know if there ever will be," Rodriguez said. "But in the next few years I think we'll be able to sustain (through) some of the bumps we're getting now."

Here are some Wildcats who have at least two more years of eligibility:

--Sophomore QB Brandon Dawkins

--Freshman QB Khalil Tate

--Freshman RB J.J. Taylor

--Sophomore WR Shun Brown

--Freshman C Nathan Eldridge

--Freshman DE Justin Belknap

--Sophomore S Demetrius Flannigan Fowles

--Sophomore CB Jace Whittaker

--Freshman S Isaiah Hayes

Plus, touted four-star offensive linemen Michael Eletise and Keenan Walker are redshirting. I never worry about a RichRod offense. The defense is what to watch.

Whereas Arizona signed seven recruits among the top 1,000 prospects last season, as rated by the 247Sports Composite, the Wildcats have 15 such players committed right now and are angling to stuff a few more into the class.

They have three four-star recruits and far more upper-level three-star kids than usual. It's not Alabama, but when you string those kinds of classes together, you should have a program that will compete in the Pac-12 South more often than not.

That's not happening this season. But do you believe RichRod is building a sturdy bridge toward 2017? Are better days coming back?


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