A good return game is part-luck, part-skill and - if you're the Arizona Wildcats - altogether confounding.
There's no logical way, after all, to explain why the UA has been so up-and-down this season. Consider: The team averages 9.7 yards per punt return, a figure that ranks fourth in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats' kick return number - 18.2 yards - is brutal, the 11th-best in the conference and 110th nationally.
"We have some guys who are capable," coach Rich Rodriguez said by way of explanation. "It's a combination of having the right kick, getting opportunities, sustaining blocks and then hitting the hole. It's a whole bunch of things."
Rodriguez doesn't know how much will improve in the 10 days leading up to Arizona's Dec. 15 New Mexico Bowl date with Nevada. But there's reason to hope. The team's two primary returners have shown good hands and blinding speed, and - if nothing else - are due.
Here's a look at them:
Position: Punt returner/reserve wide receiver
Height, weight: 6 feet 1 inch, 192 pounds
Hometown (high school): Mission Viejo, Calif. (Santa Margarita Catholic HS)
2012 stats: Since taking over for Richard Morrison at punt returner against Utah in Week 11, Willet has returned two punts for 14 yards. The sure-handed Willet has also worked himself into the rotation at wide receiver: He has caught two passes for 48 yards and a touchdown this season.
Willet said he wasn't surprised to be taking over.
"I came out every day and kept doing what I did until the job was mine," he said.
How he got here: Willet, who attended the same high school as NFL players Todd Marinovich, Carson Palmer and Chris Rix, joined the Wildcats as a walk-on in spring 2010. He didn't see his first game action until this season.
Off the field: Willet took the LSATs last Saturday, and - with graduation just six months away - is in the process of applying to law school. He can stay for another season and pursue a graduate program next year, or simply leave to become a "1-L," or first-year law student. Willet said he's leaning toward staying with the Wildcats.
He said it: "Willet's a character, but at the same time, he's a leader. He can play every position: X, Y, Z, H. He can do everything. Willet's been a great contributor to this team. … He's played a bigger role than I think he ever expected to play this year."
- UA wide receiver Dan Buckner, on Willet
Position: Kickoff returner/reserve running back
Year: Redshirt freshman
Height, weight: 5 feet 8 inches, 191 pounds
Hometown (high school): Los Angeles (Loyola HS)
2012 stats: Baker has returned four kickoffs for 72 yards since taking over as one of the two returners midseason. In four games of reserve running back duty, Baker has rushed 20 times for 85 yards.
Baker's coaches and teammates have been impressed with his speed and footwork; he is expected to compete for No. 2 running back duty next fall.
How he got here: Baker, one of Los Angeles' top high school running backs, chose the UA over an offer from Oregon State.
Off the field: Baker likes to draw, mostly profiles, faces and people.
"I was big into that in high school," he said.
Baker stays away from drawing his teammates, though. "I've helped them with some projects, but that's about it."
He said it: "Special teams are a big part of the game, and we want to do well. It's about handling our assignments and hitting it full-speed. It's just an assignment thing."
- Baker, on Arizona's special teams
• Running back Ka'Deem Carey was named a first-team All-American by Athlon Sports on Tuesday, a day after receiving similar honors from CBSSports.com.
Carey and Wisconsin's Montee Ball are the two backs on a team that includes, among others, Heisman Trophy finalists Manti Te'o and Johnny Manziel and Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton.
• Today's practice will start at 6:15 a.m., giving Rodriguez and athletic director Greg Byrne time to fly to Albuquerque for a New Mexico Bowl press conference.
• ZonaZoo members can purchase New Mexico Bowl tickets for half-price starting today, according to the UA.
Student tickets are available by visiting the ZonaZoo page on the Arizona Wildcats' website.
On StarNet: Join Ryan Finley's Bowl Challenge and get a chance to win prizes at azstarnet.com/bowls
• What: New Mexico Bowl
• Who: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5)
• When: 11 a.m. Dec. 15
• TV; radio: ESPN; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM