|Rick Bowmer / Associated Press|
|Ka'Deem Carey's on-field exploits are impressive, but his off-field antics will hurt his draft stock.|
Rich Rodriguez is an offensive wizard. He guided some of college football's most exciting and prolific attacks at Tulane, Clemson, West Virginia and now Arizona. Even his ill-fated stint at Michigan saw the Wolverines averaging 32.8 points and 488.7 yards per game in his third and final season. But all that firepower didn't produce players capable of doing the same in the NFL, adding fuel to the great "spread doesn't translate" debate of the mid-2000s.
Wildcat alums Rob Gronkowski and Nick Foles have done just fine, albeit from a spread passing approach rather than the read-option offense. With games on Sunday looking more and more like their college counterparts, will that trend change anytime soon for Rodriguez and the players he grooms? He should have access to enough talent at Arizona to answer those questions about his system specifically once and for all.
Top senior prospects
LB Marquis Flowers: Flowers moved from defensive back to linebacker and surprisingly led the team with 5.5 sacks working in the 3-3-5 scheme of coordinator Jeff Casteel. He also intercepted three passes and could be an intriguing hybrid club in the bag for teams needing to match up with slot receivers and multiple tight ends.
LB Jake Fischer: Bouncing back from a torn ACL, Fischer offered steadiness and leadership for a defense that really struggled, giving up nearly 500 yards per game. Fischer won't blow anyone away with his athleticism, but he makes up for it with a high IQ on and off the field (first-team Pac-12 All-Academic honors).
RB Ka'Deem Carey: The nation's leading rusher last season with 1,929 yards, Carey certainly took to Rodriguez's version of the spread. It is worth asking, as NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah did on Twitter, if the scheme accentuates Carey's talents in a way that cannot be duplicated in the NFL. Carey had an eventful spring -- he was arrested on a domestic violence charge that was later dismissed and was kicked out of a Wildcats basketball game after a verbal altercation with campus police. In an environment in which any character red flag will be scrutinized, Carey's off-field conduct could be a bigger issue than any on-field limitations.
WR Austin Hill: Hill suffered a serious knee injury during spring practice and is expected to miss the 2013 season, a crushing blow to a rising star that finished second to USC's Marqise Lee in the Pac-12 in receiving yards and touchdowns last season. Hill was wildly effective on deep balls, averaging 16.8 yards per catch, and must hope he will not lose any of that burst.
Three must-see games of 2013
Oct. 10 at USC: It seems unlikely the 'Cats and Trojans can top last year's wild affair in the desert, a 39-36 shootout in which Lee racked up 345 receiving yards on 16 catches. Shaquille Richardson has to fare better against the sensational Biletnikoff Award winner this time around, right?
Nov. 23 vs. Oregon: After starting out the Rodriguez era 3-0 and entering the polls, the 'Cats were given a rude awakening in a 49-0 loss to the Ducks in which they wasted five red-zone trips. Carey was held to only 79 yards rushing, which was not a surprise -- the Ducks' defense goes up against a similar spread run game every day in practice.
Nov. 30 at Arizona State: To reclaim the Territorial Cup, the Arizona linebackers will have to shut down a pair of talented and versatile rushers in Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. The 'Cats allowed a putrid 206 yards on the ground per game last season, with Grice piling up 156 yards and three scores in a 41-34 Sun Devils triumph.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.