Wildcats open at home against NAUBy JOHN MARSHALL , Associated Press
Aug. 29, 2013 5:16 PM ET
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona flourished in its first season under Rich Rodriguez, winning a bowl game while re-engaging its fan base.
The follow-up to that successful debut starts Friday night against Northern Arizona.
The FCS Lumberjacks aren't expected to put up much of a fight against the bigger, faster Wildcats, but it's not a game Arizona can just go through the motions in.
The Wildcats want to play well, not only to avoid the upset, but set the tone for the rest of the season.
"NAU is a good football team," Rodriguez said. "They have most of their team coming back and they're going to be fired up and jacked up to come play Arizona. We try to focus a lot on us with how we play and how we prepare."
The Wildcats should be pretty excited, too.
Not only is it their opening game, it's their first chance to play in renovated Arizona Stadium.
After years of playing in mediocre-at-best facilities, the Wildcats have a gleaming new place they can call their own. And they certainly don't want to lose in their first game there.
"I really appreciate everything everybody has done in terms of our stadium and our new facility, but at the end of the day, the game doesn't change," senior receiver Terrence Miller said. "We still have to play football, so in my mind I'm not really worried about the extras when the lights come on.
Here are five things to watch when Arizona hosts Northern Arizona:
1. WHO WILL START AT QB? The Wildcats have been searching for a replacement for quarterback Matt Scott since spring practices and still haven't come to a definitive conclusion on who it will be. B.J. Denker, Scott's backup last season, was called the front-runner this week by Rodriguez, but the coach also has been coy, listing him, Jesse Scroggins or Javelle Allen as the possible starter. Regardless who gets the nod, expect three, maybe even four QBs to see action.
2. CAREY THE LOAD. Consensus All-American Ka'Deem Carey led the nation with 1,929 yards and is expected to have another big season under Rodriguez's quick-hitting offense. The junior running back may feel like he still has something to prove after a difficult offseason that included domestic assault charges that were eventually dropped, and could take it out on the Lumberjacks. Thing is, he may have to do it in limited carries; if the game quickly gets out of hand, Rodriguez may opt to sit Carey to prevent him from getting hurt.
3. WHERE'S THE D? Arizona won eight games last season behind a dynamic offense that had to outscore opponents because its defense couldn't stop anyone. Plagued by youth and little depth, the Wildcats allowed nearly 500 yards per game to finish 118th out of 120 FBS schools in total defense. Arizona has more experience and depth this season, so the D should be better. And, despite opening with an FCS school, the Wildcats will get a decent test against an NAU offense that can be explosive and features three-time 1,000-yard rusher Zach Bauman.
4. POE TO START FOR JACKS. Northern Arizona had a quarterback competition of its own heading into the season and coach Jerome Souers announced this week that he's going with Kyren Poe over junior Chase Cartwright. Poe was the fourth-string quarterback last season and was moved to receiver, while Cartwright started a couple of games and led NAU to win over UNLV with starter Cary Grossart injured. Cartwright has a big arm, but Poe's athleticism allows him to extend plays, a trait Souers likes.
5. MINIMAL UPSET CHANCE. If you're looking for an upset in this one, it's likely a longshot. Arizona leads the series 11-1, its only loss 7-6 in 1932. Since 2002, the Wildcats have won six home games against NAU by a combined score of 209-69. NAU did have impressive victories over UNLV and Montana last season, but was blown out 63-6 against Arizona State, a team more comparable to Arizona than the other two. There isn't much in favor of the Lumberjacks pulling off the upset in this one.