University of Arizona vs Oregon State

Arizona linebacker Colin Schooler earned numerous all-freshman accolades in his first season as a Wildcat.

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of our countdown of the 10 most valuable Arizona Wildcats of 2018 … other than Khalil Tate.

This list is a rarity when it comes to UA football – a Tate-free zone. Had we included him, there would have been no suspense this week.

If you’ve been following along, you probably know who our pick for No. 1 is anyway. But please feel free to disagree, about this selection or any of the previous nine. Every entry can be accessed from this post. Let us know your thoughts.

Before we go any further, two quick reminders:

  • “Most valuable” does not necessarily mean “best.” Rather, we’re defining it as the contributions and traits that most influence winning football. They include talent, leadership and projected role and production.
  • Newcomers were not eligible. Even though freshmen played a huge role on last year’s team, it’s just too hard to predict who will have an immediate impact before training camp gets underway.

NO. 1: LB COLIN SCHOOLER

Ht/Wt/Yr: 6-0, 226, sophomore

Comment: The quarterback of the defense gets the nod.

But Schooler’s role goes far beyond getting his teammates properly aligned. From the moment he started to get meaningful playing time, Schooler proved to be a playmaker.

Despite not becoming a starter until the Colorado game – a lot went down on that wild night in Boulder – Schooler led the Wildcats with 13.5 tackles for losses. No freshman in the country had more.

Schooler ranked second on the team in tackles with 95, including a team-best 67 solos. He also had four sacks, two interceptions (one of which he returned for a touchdown) and a forced fumble.

Besides all that, Schooler made the game-winning play against Cal – a pass breakup in the end zone that didn’t count toward his stats because it occurred on a two-point conversion attempt.

Those numbers and accomplishments earned Schooler Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors, as well numerous Freshman All-America accolades. If he continues to improve, he’ll win even bigger awards.

Are we talking 2014 Scooby Wright? It’s unfair to expect anyone to match that season. But it isn’t hard to envision an All-America campaign in Schooler’s future.

Perhaps because he used to be a running back, Schooler simply possesses a knack for tracking down ball-carriers. His ability to read plays and anticipate where the ball is going is top notch and should only sharpen in time. It also stands to reason that Schooler will get stronger with a full offseason in the UA weight program.

Schooler would be the first to tell you that you can always get better. It’s hard to find fault with anything he did last year, but Schooler could stand to improve his conditioning. He looked a little fatigued at times, a byproduct of playing too many snaps. Then again, when you’re as productive as Schooler, it’s easy to understand why the coaches didn’t want to sub him out.

Schooler also wasn’t as vocal at the outset as then-linebackers coach Scott Boone wanted him to be. It’s not easy to take over when you’re a true freshman. Schooler should feel much more comfortable in that role as a sophomore. He’ll be the on-field spokesman for defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, who’s now coaching the linebackers.

Schooler isn’t quite on Tate’s level as far as irreplaceability, but Schooler isn’t far off. His projected backup is redshirt sophomore Jacob Colacion, who played in all 13 games last season but has zero career starts. Linebacker is among Arizona’s thinnest positions.

As long as Schooler stays healthy, the Wildcats should be fine. If he were to miss any extended action, they’d learn quickly just how valuable he is.

10 MOST VALUABLE CATS (BESIDES KHALIL TATE)