TUCSON, Ariz. -- The University of Arizona's non-conference football schedule is among the easiest in the nation, which is exactly what the Wildcats need. Coach Rich Rodriguez needs time to identify a starting quarterback.
Arizona was 8-5 in Rodriguez's debut season last year, riding the senior talents of quarterback Matt Scott, who moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now at the position, Arizona has an eclectic group that has little collective experience.
The coach was generally unhappy through the first week of camp, and he was most clearly irritated after the team's night practice on Aug. 10.
"I'm concerned with everything on offense. Everything," he said, his voice rising. "Know what I'm concerned about with offense? Everything."
Senior B.J. Denker, who was the backup last season to Scott, was considered something of the favorite heading into camp, but did not distinguish himself in early drills.
So the list of prospective quarterbacks now includes Jesse Scroggins, a USC transfer by way of junior college, who keeps missing opportunities because of injuries; Anu Solomon, a touted freshman; and Nick Isham, a walk-on sophomore transfer from Louisiana Tech (where he started games as a true freshman in 2011) might have a chance.
Help is sketchy at wide receiver because potential All-American Austin Hill rehabbing from a spring ACL tear and Tyler Slavin left the team over the summer.
Still, the Wildcats may have consensus All-American Ka'Deem Carey back to lead a deep group of running backs. Carey led the nation in rushing last season with 1,929 yards, but had a troubled offseason that might result it missing games as punishment. Rodriguez said Carey has been doing what he needed to do to get back into the staff's good graces, although he wasn't ready early in camp to pass judgment on whether Carey would miss any games as punishment.
"We have a lot of strict policies, a lot of things in our program, like any coach would, and if you don't do things the right way, then you are going to pay the price in playing time," Rodriguez said.
One of the more bizarre stories of the offseason came from running back Daniel Jenkins, who left for Washington State as a graduate transfer in his final season, but returned in May. Jenkins wanted a place to better showcase his talents, but he'll still be a No. 2 behind Ka'Deem Carey. Jenkins ran 67 times for 293 yards last season.
But what RichRod's read-option offense needs most is a quarterback. If Rodgriguez can sort out somebody he feels comfortable with, that would be a huge step forward.
"I'm putting a little extra pressure on them," Rodriguez said early in camp, "just to see who will step into the fold."
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Even as it sorts out its quarterback issues and tests a now-experienced defense to see if it can dramatically improve on last season (499.0 yards per game allowed, second-to-last nationally), Arizona should get off to a fast start. This was the right time to ease up on the schedule, as the Wildcats open with FCS in-state foe Northern Arizona on Friday, Aug. 30, followed by a trip to woeful UNLV and back home for Texas San-Antonio, in its second season of FBS competition. After that, Arizona gets a bye week to assess the progress before it really gets serious. The Wildcats begin conference play with a Sept. 28 at Washington (and its renovated Husky Stadium), and it will be at this time that we'll learn a lot more about Arizona. And, oh yeah, the first game of October is at USC.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Rodriguez doesn't just want a game-manager at quarterback. He compares the position to a point guard who can distribute the ball and hit a 3-point shot -- a game-changer, not a caretaker. That said, does UA have a quarterback like that? Not only does the quarterback have to be smart in RichRod's read-option system, making numerous pre-snap decisions, he has to be versatile enough to be a threat running and passing. This offense can look ugly when there isn't the right quarterback in the shotgun. Arizona isn't likely to reach the school-record average of 526.15 yards per game it hit last season, but if a competent quarterback emerges, it will still will be one of the best in the Pac-12.
AREAS OF CONCERN: It's the old football joke: Good news is we have everyone back; bad news is we have everyone back. Yes, just about everyone of note returns on an Arizona defense that allowed nearly 500 yards per game last season, so experience alone should make this a better unit, especially as it has a firmer grasp of coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 defense. But the Wildcats still don't have the overall size they need, most of the depth is really young and there's not a dynamic pass-rushing defensive linemen. Will experience be the difference? "We're more comfortable with each other," said sophomore linebacker Sir Thomas Jackson. "There's more communication. In a sense, we felt lost out there in the first year. We were all just trying to learn on the fly. The playbook was really small, but now he's opening it up for us."
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.