After getting a chance to heal up and recover from a challenging first half of the season, the Arizona Wildcats get a fresh start moving forward.
The season began with hope and optimism under new coach Rich Rodriguez. Two big wins over Toledo and Oklahoma State moved Arizona into the polls, and a shutout of South Carolina St. was the program's first in nearly three years.
Then came the Oregon game. The 'Cats held tough for three quarters, but eventually fell apart late before being blown out. UA lost a winnable game late in the fourth quarter to Oregon State at home. The Beavers are now ranked 8th in the BCS. Arizona then choked on the road against Stanford despite holding a two-touchdown lead with just minutes to go.
The first challenge will be getting back on track against the Washington Huskies.
The Huskies have played a schedule similar to that of Arizona. Their three losses are against ranked teams (LSU, Oregon and USC), and they've lost two in a row entering Saturday night.
Some viewed quarterback Keith Price as a darkhorse Heisman candidate to begin the year. Whether it be an injury he isn't letting on about, a lack of offensive line protection or something else, he hasn't lived up to the billing thus far. Price is completing about 61% of his passes, which is five points lower than last year's total. He's throw just one more touchdown pass (7) than he has interceptions.
Given the shortcomings in Arizona's secondary, Price could be in for a big night. If he continues to struggle though, it could be a long night for UW.
Chris Polk tore up the Wildcats last season. Fortunately for defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, Polk is gone and has been replaced by sophomore Bishop Sankey. He has rushed for 487 yards this season, averaging about 4.7 per carry. Sankey has also reached the end zone six times, and he has breakout speed capable of scoring points in a hurry for Washington.
Wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins are UW's most talented playmakers and are Price's favorite targets down the field. Look for these two to have their number called early and often on Saturday. After Stanford torched Arizona with their tight ends, it'll be interesting to see what adjustments are made for Seferian-Jenkins.
Defensively, the Huskies have struggled this year. They ranked 65th in the nation against the pass and 51st against the run amongst 120 FBS teams. UW is also allowing an average of about 26 points to their opponents, and outside of Oregon they really haven't faced an offense as good as Arizona's is.
This may be redundant, but if you're a neutral fan looking to watch a low-scoring, grind-it-out kind of game this weekend, this one probably isn't for you.
These teams really do seem pretty evenly matched on paper. Arizona has slightly exceeded expectations, while Washington is a little behind where most saw them in the preseason. Considering the Wildcats are coming off a bye week, I like their chances at home in this one. I'll say UA wins 45-35.