Arizona Wildcats football: Excitement might soon reach fever pitch

The Arizona football team has a lot of excitement building up for the 2013 season, in large part thanks to the success Matt Scott (#10) had last year in Rich Rodriguez's first as head coach. Photo by Tyler Besh/Arizona Daily Wildcat

B.J. Denker has a confidence about him.

The Arizona quarterback is fighting for a starting job on a team that just won its first bowl game since 2008.

If he won the job, he’d be replacing an All-Pac-12 quarterback in Matt Scott, who replaced Arizona’s All-time leading passer, and NFL Draft pick, Nick Foles.

The Wildcats are set to debut a new portion of Arizona Stadium, and there is excitement building up around Tucson for a football program on the rise.

B.J. Denker (pictured) is looking to become the Arizona Wildcats new starting quarterback. He has big shoes to fill with the departure of Matt Scott. Photo by Tyler Besh/Arizona Daily WildcatThat’s a lot of pressure for someone like Denker, who has one Division I start in his career — a spot start in place of an injured Scott against Colorado last year — after spending the first two years of his collegiate football career at Cerritos College in California.

That’s a lot of pressure to place on the light, 173-pound shoulders, but he’s not even guaranteed the starting job in the first place.

But, Denker has confidence in spades. He does call himself Vanilla Vick, after all.

“I’m the smartest guy on the field,” Denker said. “There’s nobody that knows this offense better than me and there’s nobody that knows football better than me on the offensive or defensive side of the ball.”

Denker will need that confidence if he’s to beat out Jesse Scroggins, a former USC 5-star recruit with a big arm, or incoming four-star recruit Jarrett “Anu” Solomon, who was recently named the No. 1 freshman most likely to make an instant impact by Sports Illustrated.

And that quarterback battle will be at the forefront of what has become high anticipation for the upcoming football season.

Year one of Rich Rodriguez was a success, and Denker might be the key to year two becoming much of the same.

“I don’t want the position given to me and I don’t think it should be,” Denker said. “Competition makes you a better player and makes the team better. I’m fine with it being open; I don’t want (Coach Rodriguez) giving me the job. I want to earn it. Anytime I get in the game in practice, I’m going to try to show him that I’m the best man for the job and that he can win with me. That’s how I take every snap.”

Added Rod Smith, the UA quarterbacks coach: ““B.J. Denker has had a very productive spring. I think he’s been pretty sharp lately. He still has some things we need to continue to get better at and work on. I’ve been pleased with his progress. He probably has the greatest grasp of what we’re doing offensively. He understands where the ball needs to go and what it needs to do at certain times.”

Here’s a look at why the anticipation is high for the upcoming season.

Before we get into that, here’s what UA athletic director Greg Byrne had to say about the excitement building up around Tucson pertaining to the football program: “I think people are talking about it a lot. I mean here we are in april and that’s a discussion item esp now that basketball season is over for men and women. We got softball, baseball track tennis golf, swimmings done. Gymnastics is almost done. This is actually a busy time of year for us but theres an article in the paper almost every day during spring football talking about next year”

The quarterback battle

If you thought the battle was “well-documented” now, just wait until fall camp rolls around. Of the three men legitimately in the competition — realistically, walk-ons like Jack Nykaza and Nick Isham, plus 2012 recruit Javelle Allen, have no shot — Denker was the only one to play in the spring, at least until the spring game.

As a member of the 2013 recruiting class, Solomon is not eligble to play until the fall.

The four-star recruit from Las Vegas comes with high regards not only for his skillset, but because he’s a winner.

Solomon was the starting quarterback at Bishop Gorman High School, the former stomping grounds of UCLA star Shabazz Muhammad, since his freshman season and won a record three state titles, passing for 7,215 yards and 101 touchdowns.

“He can throw, he runs wells, he’s a tough competitor and he’s a winner,” Rodriguez said. “Again, he played for a great high school program. I’m really excited about Anu. He has the skill set that we look for in a quarterback. He’s a competitor and a tough guy. He should have a great future here.”

As for Scroggins, he took an interesting path to the Arizona Wildcats.Jesse Scroggins (1) will have a shot to compete with B.J. Denker and Anu Solomon for Arizona's starting quarterback job. Photo by Tyler Baker/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Coming out of high school, Scroggins was a four-star, highly touted recruit from Lakewood, Calif. He received an offer from Arizona then, but realistically they never had a shot.

He received scholarship offers from, among others: Cal, Florida, LSU, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, USC and Washington.

Scroggins settled on the Trojans, but once he discovered he wouldn’t be getting any playing time sitting behind four-year starter Matt Barkley — who was recently drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles — Scroggins left USC, and attended El Camino College in 2012. Now, he’s a Wildcat.

“The timing was really good for us,” Rodriguez said. “I think Jesse has an opportunity to come and compete right away. I think he’s hungry. He’s matured from his experiences. He’s hungry to prove himself all over again. It’s been a really good addition.”

Scroggins sat out for almost every drill and practice in the Spring in recovery from a shoulder injury he suffered last year, but just prior to Arizona’s Spring Game on April 12, he told Rodriguez he wanted to play. And he did, and finished  6 of 17 for 44 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.

“I can zing it,” Scroggins said. “I can definitely zing it.

“Coach Rod, he told me, ‘I’m going to give you a fair shot and may the best man win. Once he said that, I was ready.”

Of the three, Denker has the most familiarity with the offense. He played in six games, five as a reserve. After Scott suffered a concussion against UCLA in week nine, Denker took over the starting role for a week — homecoming week nonetheless — and did fairly well in leading the Wildcats to a dominant 56-31 win against a mediocre Colorado squad. Denker completed 12-of-14 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, adding 44 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

The quarterback battle is especially interesting because of the different skillsets each candidate brings to the table.

Scroggins has the size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and arm strength, but lacks the speed that routinely leads Rodriguez’s no-huddle, spread option offense.

Denker has the most experience, and is probably the fastest (he reportedly ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at Cerritos College), but he’s also the smallest, and the least dynamic passer.

And Solomon is the freshman wunderkind, with sky-high potential, a perfect fit in the offense and decent size (6-foot-1, 202 pounds). But, freshman rarely succeed at quarterback, and he has no experience against top flight, college competition.

So, in short, the quarterback battle will be something to keep an eye on.

Ka’Deem the Dream

Ka'Deem Carey (25) is the running back for the Arizona Wildcats and a potential Heisman finalist in 2013. Photo by Tyler Besh/Arizona Daily WildcatThe Wildcats star running back, Ka’deem Carey, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons since the season ended in December.

In early January, he was charged with disorderly conduct and assault stemming from an incident with his pregnant ex-girlfriend in December.

On Jan. 22, Carey was cited in Casa Grande for driving with an expired registration and failure to produce insurance.

Then, finally, Carey was booted from McKale Center during an Arizona basketball game and was quoted in a police report as saying, “Do you know who I am? I’m an All-American?”

That’s not exactly ideal press for someone who’s in pursuit of a Heisman Trophy.

Off-the-field troubles aside, Carey is a stud running back, and the Wildcats will go as far as he takes them.

Last year he set numerous Arizona football rushing records, including rushing yards (1,929) and total touchdowns (24) and was the first-ever Wildcat to lead the nation in rushing.

His best performance came against Colorado, when he ran wild for a Pac-12 record 366 yards, plus five touchdowns. He fell just 40 yards short of ex-TCU back, and future NFL Hall of Famer, LaDainian Tomlinson’s record set in 1999.

“Ka’Deem has worked hard. Coach (Calvin) Magee is demanding and Ka’Deem has a lot to prove but so far he’s shown it,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve limited his reps [in the spring] and we’ll limit them Saturday because we know what he can do. He wants to do more and he’s worked really hard.”

Carey will need to get his act together off the field if he wants an NFL future as well.

Many NFL Draft prognosticators are already listing Carey as the top back in the class of 2014 and as a potential first-round draft pick.

Here’s what Shane Hallam, of NFL Draft Countdown, told the Arizona Daily Wildcat a few weeks ago:

“He’s my No. 2 back right now in the class, of all the eligible prospects. I like him a lot. That type of productivity is good. As much as Matt Scott’s going to go high, I think the statistics were that good because of Ka’Deem. I think he’s going to be a really interesting player. He’s built for the NFL and he’s going to have two good years of experience under his belt. If he’s as productive as he was this year, I think he’s somewhat like [UCLA’s] Johnathan Franklin of this years class. He was a late riser. I think [Carey] can be that type player because he can do everything well, he’s a willing blocker. He needs a little bit of work in the passing game, I want to see more from that this year, but I project him probably in the second round right now.”

The stadium

Originally called the North End Zone project, the renamed “Lowell-Stevens Football Facility” is on tap to be completed by the start of the 2013 season when the Wildcats welcome NAU to Arizona Stadium to kick off the new season.

The team is set to officially move into the new location in July.
“The amenities are very much going to modernize Arizona football,” said Athletic Director Greg Byrne.
“For so many years, that was an Achilles’ heel for us. It was an issue. Now, we’ll be able to look at all of our recruits and say, ‘You’ll be able to come here and have the same experience you would have at any place,’ and that’s on top of the other strengths we already have at Arizona.”

Before the renovations, the football team for a long time (as recent as 2012) was the only college football program in the country that shared its facilities with the basketball team, in the basketball stadium at McKale Center.

Recruiting has never been great for the UA, largely due to a lackluster football history, but the lack of facilities certainly never helped the cause. Exiled former head coach Mike Stoops agrees.

And so do current and former players.

“I can’t wait to go in there,” said senior linebacker Jake Fischer. “Obviously it’s great just because what they’re investing in the program is leading to the Rose Bowl, even if it’s not this year. This program’s going to get there, this staff’s going to get there. It’s exciting to see Arizona football moving forward.”

Whether or not Arizona ever does actually get to its illustrious, first-ever Rose Bowl remains to be seen, but the team is certainly in better shape to do so now, with a top-notch head coach, and soon to be top-notch facilities, in tow.

“I think the future is very bright,” Byrne said

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