Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey carries the ball during the first quarter of the Wildcats' win over Utah. Carey had 204 yards and a touchdown.


The Arizona Wildcats are heavy underdogs heading into Saturday's Pac-12 Conference opener at No. 3 Oregon.

Don't expect Rich Rodriguez to necessarily argue. Arizona's first-year coach knows more than most just how good Oregon, is. And while the 22nd-ranked Wildcats' 3-0 start has opened eyes, the Ducks are on a different level.

Rodriguez has emphasized relevance over the first three weeks of the season.

"But we're realistic, too," Rodriguez said Monday. "We've won two games against teams most people thought we'd (beat), and one game most people thought we wouldn't win.

"Our guys aren't going to BS anybody: We have to play pretty well and hope they play poor at times and give us a chance. We're not conceding anything. I'm just saying, that's the way it is."

Things don't get much tougher than Saturday's game.

The Ducks - who are listed as a 23 1/2-point favorite over the Wildcats - blew through their first three opponents by a total score of 162-73.

Oregon's starters have played roughly half the time, in part because none of the games have been particularly close.

"This is a process that's been fun for three weeks, but our guys know we've got a lot of work to do," Rodriguez said. "And this is a big test."

Rodriguez: Thomas is NFL-ready

The UA defense must stop Oregon's speedy backs and receivers to have any chance at an upset.

None are faster than De'Anthony Thomas: In three games, Thomas has rushed 13 times for 228 yards and caught 11 passes for 154 yards. Seven of his 24 touches this season have resulted in touchdowns.

Thomas, a sophomore from Los Angeles, amassed 222 total yards of offense in the Ducks' win over Tennessee Tech last weekend.

"They'll hand him the ball, they'll throw it to him, he returns kicks, he returns punts," Rodriguez said.

UA safety Jared Tevis called Thomas "really explosive" and a guy who "has multiple big plays every game."

Arizona's coach did a double-take when it was confirmed that Thomas is, indeed, just a sophomore. lists Thomas third in its weekly projections for the trophy, behind West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.

Rodriguez said the Ducks' do-everything player is NFL-ready.

"Can he come out early?" Rodriguez said. "De'Anthony, you've proven enough. It's time to go to the NFL. Maybe he can go before Saturday."

Getting deeper

Defensive end Dan Pettinato and linebacker Hank Hobson received good reviews for their performances Saturday in UA's 56-0 win over South Carolina State. Both had missed Weeks 1 and 2, Pettinato with a knee and Hobson with a bad shoulder.

Arizona will need both players healthy and productive to hang with Oregon and many other Pac-12 opponents. The two play arguably the Wildcats' two thinnest positions.

"They're healthier, and there shouldn't be any restrictions," Rodriguez said. "It looks like both of those guys are 100 percent going forward, and that helps, particularly with our lack of depth defensively. We need a couple more guys who can play."

Fresh starts

Through three games, nine of the Wildcats' 22 true freshmen on scholarship have made their college debuts, essentially eliminating them from redshirt consideration.

Linebackers Dakota Conwell, C.J. Dozier, Keoni Bush-Loo and Anthony Lopez; safeties Will Parks, Wayne Capers Jr. and Jamar Allah; running back J.T. Washington; and offensive lineman Cayman Bundage all figure to play more as the season progresses.

Rodriguez said he won't hesitate to change redshirt plans if there's a need.

"It's such a long season, and a lot of our true freshmen are in backup roles and would be in backup roles," he said. "If a guy gets hurt, they'd be in there."

Extra points

• Consider the spotlight squarely on Richard Morrison. The Wildcats' receiver fumbled for the second time in three games and muffed a punt Saturday, a poor stat given that he's also the team's primary punt returner.

"Richard's our best at probably catching punts," Rodriguez said. "He's had a couple bobbles, but he's had a couple good catches, too."

• Rodriguez had high praise for the Pac-12, which he has previously said is the deepest conference in America. He said:

"The SEC obviously has a great claim to being the best conference in the country, and rightfully so. If you're asking me who the second-best league is, we're in it."

Up next

• Who: No. 22 Arizona at No. 3 Oregon

• When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday


• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM