The Arizona Wildcats will kick off their 2012 season with the Toledo Rockets in town. The Rockets are coming off a very successful campaign in 2011 and return quite a bit of talent on the offensive side of the ball. Here is a look at what to watch for on Saturday night.
How (bad) does the defense look?
For all intents and purposes, last year's defense might have been the worst in school history. Arizona allowed a little more than 35 points per game last season, and while the unit should be healthier in 2012, there are a ton of question marks at nearly every position on the field.
One of three starters at linebacker, junior Jake Fischer, has played more than a handful of meaningful minutes. One of the starting defensive ends, Dominique Austin, spent last year on the practice squad. The secondary has potential to be solid, but how will they adjust to the new 3-3-5 scheme defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel brought along with him from West Virginia?
I don't want to seem overly pessimistic here, but the defense is going to struggle this season if the last few weeks of practices and scrimmages are any indication. Just how bad will it be? We'll know in a hurry on Saturday night.
Just how good is new-ish quarterback Matt Scott?
Scott, a redshirt senior, has received glowing reviews in summer camp and looks like an ideal fit to run Rich Rodriguez's read-option offense. After losing his starting spot as a sophomore to Nick Foles, Scott has had a chance to mature and really learn what's necessary for a QB to be successful at a high level.
If Arizona is going to win many games this season, Scott is going to have to come up big each and every week. Some experts are predicting he will lead the Pac-12 in total yards, which seems like a solid bet given his ability to throw the ball accurately and use his feet to escape pressure. If he is able to live up to the hype, the Wildcats will have a chance not only on Saturday night, but against a very difficult conference schedule.
Does Ka'Deem Carey take the next step as a sophomore?
Carey, a local kid who entered the program as one of the highest-ranked recruits in school history, had an impressive freshman debut last season, rushing for 425 yards and receiving 203 more. He scored eight times, which was especially impressive given the depth at the tailback spot.
Carey enters the game as the unquestioned No. 1 running back, and he should see upwards of 15+ carries a game to start the season. The talent is there for the sophomore to emerge as one of the best running backs on the west coast given his mix of size and speed.
Arizona needs Carey to step up early in the year. This offense will not be successful without a strong rushing attack, and the trio of Carey, Scott and backup tailback Daniel Jenkins could become a very formidable one. Look for them to make plays on Saturday night against a pretty inexperienced Toledo defense.
What is the atmosphere like at Arizona Stadium?
The Wildcats play eight games at home this season, which could be a huge boost to the new coaching staff's efforts in year one. When full and energized, Arizona Stadium features one of the better atmospheres in college football. Just take a look at the Oregon game with College GameDay in town or the Iowa showdown of 2010.
This all being said, plenty of seats remained open as of Wednesday evening. The ZonaZoo should be full at kickoff, but the students have historically left early if the team struggles in the first half. And given the 5,000 vacated seats in the north end zone as construction continues, the stadium will have no crowd presence in one-fourth of the stadium.
This will not be an easy game, nor will it be one the 'Cats can just show up to and expect to win. The crowd is going to be an intricate part of Arizona's winning formula this season, especially when the tougher teams come to town. Will the UA faithful show up in their cardinal or navy, or will it be a repeat of the back-end of 2011?
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. local
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ
Odds: Arizona opened as nine-point favorites.
For more on the Wildcats, check out AZ Desert Swarm.
Follow me on Twitter: @ScottColeman_UA