The final ranked team in action on Thursday, the opening night of college football season, is No. 22 Arizona, the reigning Pac-12 South champion and one of the NCAA's pleasant surprises last season. It's the first time the Wildcats have been ranked in the preseason since 1999.
The Cats shouldn't have much trouble with their home opener against Conference USA school Texas-San Antonio, but you never know. Perhaps Arizona might get caught looking ahead to a tougher challenge Week 2 at Nevada. Thursday's game is on the Pac-12 Network.
UTSA at Arizona Betting Story Lines
So what do I know about UTSA? I definitely knew that they are called the Roadrunners and are coached by Larry Coker, who won a National Championship at Miami (Fla.), albeit all with Butch Jones' players. It's a program in just its fourth season as a full-fledged FBS member.
The Roadrunners won eight games in 2012 in their first FBS season, also as a WAC member. They slipped to 7-5 in 2013 moving to C-USA, and then only 4-8 last year. That latter record was a huge disappointment as school officials expected a first bowl berth with a whopping 37 seniors on the roster, making UTSA the most experienced team in the nation. Texas-San Antonio opened with a solid 27-7 win at Houston and then nearly stunned these Wildcats, also on a Thursday night. Arizona escaped at home 26-23. UA's Nick Wilson carried 30 times for 174 yards and a touchdown. QB Anu Solomon was 17-for-32 for 231 yards and a score. Cayleb Jones had an 85-yard scoring reception for Arizona on the first play from scrimmage. The Roadrunners pulled within three on David Glasco II's 3-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, but they couldn't get close enough to attempt a tying field goal the rest of the way.
The preseason Conference USA poll has UTSA projected to finish last in the West Division. There are only six starters back, among the fewest in the nation, two on offense (guard Will Cavanaugh, tight end David Morgan) and four on defense. The new starting QB is redshirt freshman Blake Bogenschutz. He started one of the three games he played in last season before he broke his right hand. In the offseason, Bogenschutz got a medical redshirt. Bogenschutz beat out senior transfer Russell Bellomy (Michigan) and sophomores Dalton Sturm and Austin Robinson.
Arizona finished 10-4 last year under third-year coach Rich Rodriguez, the school's best season since going 12-1 in 1998 and finishing fourth in the final AP poll. The '14 season did end on a bit of a down note. After beating rival Arizona State 42-35 to win the Pac-12 South, Arizona was blown out by Oregon 51-13 in the Pac-12 title game -- the Cats had won in Eugene earlier in the season to hand the Ducks their only regular-season loss -- and then upset 38-30 by Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
There's some nice talent on this team. In Solomon, Rodriguez has his first returning starter at QB since Pat White in 2007 at West Virginia. Solomon was 313-for-540 for 3,793 yards, 28 touchdowns and nine picks last year as a freshman. He also rushed for 291 yards and two scores. Solomon is +6000 to win the Heisman at 5Dimes. Wilson was a monster as a freshman in 2014 as well, rushing 236 times for 1,375 yards and 16 scores. Five of the top six receivers come back, led by Jones.
On defense, five starters return, led by perhaps the most disruptive defender in college football in linebacker Scooby Wright. In my mind, he deserved to win the Butkus Award last year. Wright, who did win the Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award and Bednarik Award (UCLA's Eric Kendricks won Butkus), was a unanimous All-American and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He ranked in the top five among FBS players for total tackles (163), tackles for loss (29.0), sacks (14.0) and forced fumbles (6). The secondary and line are question marks, however.
The Wildcats return both kicker Casey Skowron (123 points) and punter Drew Riggleman, a second-team All-Pac-12 honoree in 2015.
UTSA at Arizona Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes, Arizona is a 31.5-point favorite with a total 54. The Cats are -13500 on the moneyline. UTSA is 9-3 against the spread in its past 12 nonconference games. It is 1-4 ATS in its past five on the road. Arizona is 0-5 ATS in its past five in September. The "over/under" has gone under in nine of UTSA's past 12 on the road. The under is 10-4 in Arizona's past 14 at home.
The Cats are +925 to win the Pac-12 title game and +775 fourth-favorites to repeat as South Division champions. They are +350 to make a New Year's Six bowl. Arizona has a wins total of 7.5, with the over a -135 favorite.
Free NCAA Football Picks: UTSA at Arizona Betting Predictions
This line opened at 30.5, so I'm hoping it dips under 31.5 by kickoff. I'm sure 5Dimes will offer that as an alternate line later this week. At that number, give the points. UTSA is so inexperienced that it should get blown off the field unless RichRod calls off the dogs. I'm going over the total. I'd also go over Arizona's 7.5-win total, but I don't see repeating in the South.
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