Arizona coach Jedd Fisch begins his third season with the Wildcats on Saturday night with an expected prolific offense, hope for improvement on defense and payback on his mind.
Arizona opens at home in Tucson, Ariz., against FCS Northern Arizona, which pulled off a stunning 21-19 upset on Sept. 18, 2021, ending a 14-game losing streak to the Wildcats that dated to 1932.
Fisch, who inherited a 12-game skid from former coach Kevin Sumlin, went on to a 1-11 record in 2021 but improved to 5-7 last season.
"I think our team is a little different than it was a couple of years ago," Fisch said. "I know their team is different. It seems as if there's been a lot of transfers that have come and gone on both programs."
One of those is Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura, a second-year transfer from Washington State who leads an offense that returns the bulk of its players from a unit that averaged 30.8 points per game last season.
Also back are all-purpose running back Michael Wiley (771 yards rushing, 349 receiving), quick slot receiver Jacob Cowing (85 catches, 1,034 yards, seven TDs), big-play receiver Tetairoa McMillan (39 catches, 702 yards, eight TDs) and potential first-round left tackle Jordan Morgan. He has been cleared to start after recovering from a torn ACL in November.
The defense is the potential issue, trying to rebuild quickly up front via the transfer portal after allowing 36.5 points per game in 2022.
NAU went 3-8 last season but is buoyed by a 15-member freshman class that fifth-year coach Chris Ball called the most talented class he's had. And the Lumberjacks added 36 transfers for this season.
"I'm having more fun coaching this year than I have in 38 years of coaching football," Ball said. "This is a great group of young men."
NAU has a hole to fill at quarterback but returns talented receivers in second-team All-Big Sky Coleman Owen and senior Hendrix Johnson, who has 169 career receptions, 33 away from becoming the school's career leader.
The star on defense is senior lineman Eloi Kwete, who enters with 26.5 career tackles for loss, including 16 sacks.
The programs have met regularly since 2022, settling now into an every-other-year pattern.
—Field Level Media