Arizona's Nick Johnson strips the ball from Washington's Aziz N'Diaye during the first half as Kaleb Tarczewski defends from behind. Arizona coach Sean Miller later minced no words: "Nick's an elite defender."


Dear Mr. Football: How have nine months on the job changed Rich Rodriguez?

A: In December, speaking of Arizona's football tradition, he would say, "They haven't gone to the Rose Bowl." By the end of spring practice, he would say, "You haven't been to the Rose Bowl."

Friday, on a ESPN radio/TV simulcast, (after politely fielding the requisite opening three questions about Michigan) he finally said, "We haven't been to the Rose Bowl."

At last, RichRod has become an Arizona Man.

Dear Mr. Football: How much damage did the he's-not-a-Michigan-man trauma do to RichRod's reputation?

A : The Sporting News ranked every FBS coach in America, 1 through 124, and listed RichRod at No. 39. That's absurdly behind No. 30, Steve Sarkisian, who is 19-19 at Washington, and behind No. 32, David Shaw, who has coached but one season at Stanford.

It is far behind the mouth-that-roars, Wazzu's Mike Leach, No. 17. Before they met unkind fates, Leach was 58-31 in his five prime seasons at Texas Tech; Rodriguez was 61-26 simultaneously at West Virginia.

Somehow, Leach is granted more cachet than Rodriguez nationally. Why? Because he comes off as something of a crackpot. Perhaps RichRod should tell more stories about pirate ships and Jimmy Buffett songs.

Dear Mr. Football: Where does 32-year-old Toledo head coach Matt Campbell fit in the rankings?

A : At a distant No. 103, Campbell is merely No. 6 in his own conference. But some might say that Campbell is more upwardly mobile than RichRod; that he is more likely to coach (someone else) in a Big Four-type bowl game someday soon.

Here's what the esteemed Toledo Blade wrote about Campbell this week: "Campbell has the best job in the MAC. Photographs commemorating the program's formidable tradition adorn updated facilities that leave nothing to be desired. … The objective, Campbell says, is to take UT from good to consistently great."

Dear Mr. Football: Who knew that Toledo has a formidable football tradition?

A : Get this: In the last 50 years, Toledo has won nine or more games 16 times, going undefeated four times. Arizona can't touch that; the Wildcats won nine or more only in 1974, 1975, 1986, 1993 and 1998.

Dear Mr. Football: Can it be a good sign that two former Canyon del Oro players, tailback Ka'Deem Carey and safety Jared Tevis, are in Arizona's starting lineup?

A: Only once since UA was absorbed by the Pac-8 in 1978 have more than two UA players from the same Southern Arizona high school started or played a significant role simultaneously. That was 1984, when receiver Jon Horton, tailback David Adams and linebacker Jerry Beasley, all Sunnyside grads, were key players on a 7-4 team.

Over that period, 51 Southern Arizona preps have been prominent UA players. Sahuaro is a runaway leader with nine; no other school has more than four. The nine Sahuaro Cougars: tackle Mike Ciasca; kicker Steve McLaughlin; guard Mike Freeman; punter Bret Holley; special teams standout Joe Lohmeier; punter Matt Peyton; safety Tony Wingate; defensive end Todd Thompson; and receiver Jay Dobyns.

Dear Mr. Football: Who should be the happiest football player on campus?

A : Ka'Deem Carey last season was an odd fit in a pass-happy offense that attempted 577 passes and just 311 rushes. Only once, in a kill-the-clock victory over UCLA, did Arizona rush more times (46-44) than it passed. But RichRod's offenses are the reverse of that. In his 37 games at Michigan, RichRod passed more than he ran in only five games (all losses). In his final five seasons at West Virginia, RichRod never had a game in which his team passed more than it ran.

If Carey stays healthy, he projects as someone who can rush for 1,200 to 1,500 yards as a sophomore. In Rodriguez's three Michigan seasons, the Wolverines rushed 1,513 times and passed just 1,052.

No. 25 is going to get his jersey very dirty.

Dear Mr. Football: What are the three most anticipated things of Arizona football, 2012?

A: The possible debut of those compelling copper helmets. (Pssst: Nov. 23, Territorial Cup, perhaps?)

The recognition and induction of Arizona's College World Series baseball champions - Hall of Fame weekend - at halftime of the Nov. 10 game against Colorado.

The announcement that the Aug. 31, 2013, season opener, at renovated Arizona Stadium, will be against a Really Big Name Team. (Pssst. West Virginia is available.)

Dear Mr. Football: Have Tucsonans shown faith in Arizona's first-year football coaches?

A: Attendance plunged 5,056 per game in John Mackovic's first season; dropped 3,571 per game in Dick Tomey's first season; plummeted 7,204 in Tony Mason's first year; and fell off 6,350 in Bob Weber's first try.

But now, well into the 21st century, Tucsonans are like most Americans: We love football. Tucson displayed great, almost blind faith in young Mike Stoops, with a robust increase of 7,346 in his first season.

"We've sold 2,600 new season tickets," said UA athletic director Greg Byrne. "Our season ticket renewal percentage is about 92, 93 percent."

Capacity of construction-plagued Arizona Stadium is diminished to 51,000. Even in a transition year, that should lead to capacity crowds against USC, ASU, Oklahoma State and Washington.

Is that too optimistic? Stoops' teams averaged 52,629 over eight seasons. That paid the noted sideline dissident almost $500,000 in contract bonuses.

Dear Mr. Football: Is Toledo any good?

A : Based on what I saw on Thursday night TV, the Rockets are better than Washington State and way better than Rice. They could score 30 points tonight.

But Matt Scott and Arizona's offensive line will score more. First team to 40 wins.