Nonconference primer: Arizona Wildcats

We begin a series that will look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2015.


UTSA Roadrunners, Thursday, Sept. 3

  • Coach: Larry Coker (23-23), fifth season

  • 2014 record: 4-8, 3-5 Conference-USA

  • Returning starters: One offense, two defense

  • Offensive headliners: At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, tight end David Morgan II is a tough cover. He racked up 255 yards on 20 catches last year and figures to be a primary offensive pivot point for the Roadrunners in 2015.

  • Defensive headliners: The team's two leading tacklers of a year ago have graduated, so linebacker Drew Douglas (71 stops) and defensive lineman Jason Neill (7 TFL, 4 sacks) assume the center of attention.

  • The skinny: After starting a program from scratch about a half decade ago, Coker has just finished the first full cycle -- UTSA graduated its first crop of four-year seniors after the 2014 season. That means the Roadrunners will be breaking in a bevy of new starters early in the year. One of their positions of inexperience happens to be quarterback, so growing pains are expected when they face Arizona to open the season.

at Nevada Wolf Pack, Saturday, Sept. 12

  • Coach: Brian Polian (11-14), third season

  • 2014 record: 7-6, 4-4 Mountain West

  • Returning starters: Seven offense, six defense

  • Offensive headliners: Running backs Don Jackson and James Butler had their moments in 2014, as did receiver Hasaan Henderson. But quarterback Cody Fajardo was the real star, and he's gone, so Nevada is waiting for new stalwarts to emerge.

  • Defensive headliners: Ends Ian Seau and Lenny Jones combined for 12 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 9 pass break-ups in 2015. Continued productivity from this position can make the entire defense more effective.

  • The skinny: Fajardo's loss is a punishing blow. The Wolf Pack also graduated their top three defensive backs, so this team looks plenty vulnerable even despite making tangible progress in Polian's second year at the helm. Still, playing in that Reno altitude has never been known to be a cakewalk, so Arizona must arrive prepared.

Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, Saturday, Sept. 19

  • Coach: Jerome Souers (107-96), 18th season

  • 2014 record: 7-5, 5-3 Big Sky

  • Offensive headliners: Running back Casey Jahn (873 yards, 4.5 per carry) and receiver Alex Holmes (46 catches, 655 yards) both return. Holmes even threw four passes for 131 yards and a touchdown last season.

  • Defensive headliners: Safety Eddie Horn led the Lumberjacks with 81 tackles and three interceptions last season. He'll again be the defensive centerpiece as a senior.

  • The skinny: Northern Arizona is competitive within its own league, but the simple truth is that Big Sky talent does not match Pac-12 talent. The Wildcats will have a significant advantage at every position.

Thoughts: Last season, Arizona found themselves in dogfights with veteran-laden UTSA and Nevada squads. The Wildcats ultimately prevailed in both games, and those triumphs proved beneficial in their build toward an eventual Pac-12 South championship. Arizona no longer features freshmen at key positions, so they should not have as much trouble with either the Roadrunners or the Wolf Pack this season -- graduation has taken a big toll on both of those programs. Anything worse than another 3-0 nonconference sweep would be a surprise and a disappointment in Tucson.