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The Wildcats have gone 8-5 in each of their first two seasons for head coach Rich Rodriguez, and 4-5 in Pac-12 play both years. An improvement over the end of the Mike Stoops era, yes, but nothing too much to crow about. And Arizona has still never played in the Rose Bowl.

But college football programs often make big strides in the third season of new coaching regimes, and the 'Cats are in their third season under Rodriguez. So even though Arizona has to replace its starting quarterback, leading rusher and top two tacklers from last season, not only is improvement hoped for this season, it's expected.

Arizona Odds to Win Pac-12: 25/1 at Bovada
Arizona Odds to Win College Football Championship: 100/1 at Bovada
Arizona Regular Season Win Total: 6.5 at Bovada

Arizona opened last year 3-0, but lost back-to-back games at Washington and at USC. The Wildcats then won three in a row to get to 6-2, but lost back-to-back tough games at home to UCLA and Washington State. The 'Cats then upset the hell out of Oregon, but suffered a letdown and got roasted at rival Arizona State. Arizona then ended the season on a good note with a solid victory over Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.

While they finished a game under .500 in conference play the Wildcats out-gained conference foes by 23 yards per game. Also, Arizona is 13-13 ATS under Rodriguez, and 3-0 both SU and (obviously) ATS as a home dog.

This year the Wildcats return 13 starters, four less than last season. Seven starters are back on offense, including four along what could be one of the best offensive lines in the country, and WR Austin Hill, who caught 1,400 yards worth of balls in 2012 but missed last season with a knee injury. But they have to replace their starting quarterback (again) and 1,900-yard rusher Ka'Deem Carey. Meanwhile six starters are back on defense, including three-quarters of the secondary.

Arizona begins this season with four very winnable games, then visits Oregon on a Thursday night. The 'Cats also visit Washington State, UCLA and Utah, and host USC, Washington and the Sun Devils. A good goal for Arizona would be to split its four conference road games, win at least three of its home games, and pull an upset somewhere along the line. As for the Rose Bowl, well, maybe next year.

Pac-12 Championship Odds at Bovada as of August 5

Oregon 11/10
UCLA 11/4
USC 5/1
Stanford 6/1
Arizona State 12/1
Washington 14/1
Arizona 25/1
Oregon State 33/1
Washington State 50/1
Utah 66/1
California 200/1
Colorado 200/1

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Head coach Rich Rodriguez didn't have much luck at Michigan a few years back, but it hasn't taken him long to create some excitement with the Arizona Wildcats.

UA won eight games last year, including a bowl, and could have won two or three more, had any semblance of a defense shown up. So after years of mediocrity the future suddenly appears very bright in Tuscon.  

Odds to Win Pac 12: +850 at 5Dimes
Regular Season Win Total: 7.5 at Bovada

Arizona only had 11 starters back for its first season under coach Rich Rod last year, but they did have a quarterback in Matt Scott, and that was a good start. The Wildcats began last year with three straight wins, including a 59-38 victory over a ranked Oklahoma State squad. They then opened Pac-12 play with a 49-0 loss to Oregon, but then suffered a tough three-point loss to Oregon State, and blew a 14-point lead in an overtime defeat at Stanford. Arizona then trounced Washington and rallied to upset USC, but then suffered a severe letdown and got trounced themselves at UCLA.

The 'Cats then beat Colorado and Utah, lost the rivalry game to Arizona State by a touchdown (another blown lead), then edged Nevada 49-48 in the New Mexico Bowl. So Arizona finished 8-5 overall, 4-5 in Pac-12 play, and 6-7 ATS. The Wildcats averaged 38 PPG, but gave up 35 PPG. That might be why they went 9-3 on the OVER/UNDER.

This year the 'Cats get 16 starters back. Just five starters return on offense; fortunately, one of them is 1,900-yard rusher Ka'Deem Carey, and three others are back to  anchor the offensive line. But they took a hit when WR Austin Hill, who caught 80 balls for over 1,300 yards last year, tore an ACL this spring; he's likely out for this season. And they'll have to find a new QB, with Scott's departure. Also, while all 11 starters are back on defense, that unit allowed almost 500 YPG last year, and six times allowed 600 yards. So improvement is definitely needed on that side of the ball.

Arizona should start 3-0 this year against Northern Arizona, UNLV, and UT-San Antonio, but four of its first five conference games are on the road, at Washington, USC, Colorado, and Cal. The 'Cats then host UCLA, Washington State, and Oregon, then finish at Arizona State. But they miss Stanford and Oregon State. From afar, Arizona could be favored in as many as eight or nine games this year.

Pac-12 Championship Odds at 5Dimes as of August 11

Oregon +175
Stanford +480
USC +600
UCLA +700
Arizona +850
Oregon State +1050
Arizona State +1100
Washington +1500
Utah +2600
Cal +6000
Washington State +6000
Colorado +20000