Tom Danehy, Jacob Chinn photo

The 2016 football season is certainly one to approach with optimistic curiosity and tempered enthusiasm. It is a tough schedule, but one with seven and a half home games and lots of opportunities.

“Hopefully, offensively we can take another step, stay healthy and have some success. With that, we’ll get this knocked out,” says Coach Rich Rodriguez.

Arizona enters Shock-tober when they face the top three teams in the Pac-12 South (at UCLA, USC and at Utah) and the top team in the North (and overall pick to win the conference title), Stanford. Sandwiched around that four-game stretch are games with rising powers Washington and (at) Washington State. If the ’Cats win two or three of those six games (and handle their business the rest of the way), it could be a very satisfying season.

While the Arizona offense is poised to put up big numbers again (even counting the three-point output at Washington last Halloween night, Arizona still averaged more than 30 points a game in Pac-12 play last season), it falls to the defense to stop opponents.

Last year, the ’Cat defense surrendered nearly 500 yards and over 40 points per game in Pac-12 play. Those stunningly bad numbers forced Rodriguez to completely retool his defensive coaching staff. Early reports are that the change is reaping huge dividends in recruiting, but that will take a year or two to show up on the field. In the meantime, new Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates will have to piece together a unit that can help keep the games close.

“I liked what we accomplished in the spring,” says Yates of his defense. “The one thing I saw right away is that the guys play hard and want to get better. They work hard every day. They watch film. They care.”

The RichRod era marks the best four-year stretch in Wildcat football history (four straight bowl games and an overall mark of 33-20). Despite the long odds, the smart money should be on Rodriguez and his guys to make it five in a row… and counting.