University of Arizona football fans have been hoping Anu Solomon would return to the form he showed in 2014 when the strong-armed quarterback led the Wildcats to their first Pac-12 South title under head coach Rich Rodriguez and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.
But if he does, it won’t happen in Tucson.
As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Solomon beat out three other legitimate contenders for the starting role and went on to throw for 3,793 yards, 28 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He made Rich Rod look like a genius for picking him out of the group.
The next year, despite being plagued by injuries that included a couple of concussions, he added more yardage to raise his career passing totals to 6,460 yards, fourth-most in program history, and 48 passing touchdowns over his first two seasons, third on the all-time list.
But in the 2016 season, injuries took him out of the picture for almost the entire season. He got the starting nod in the opener against BYU, but was sidelined before the second game, thanks to a knee injury suffered during practice.
He was back on the field for the Oct. 29 game against Stanford and started against Oregon State three games later, but his return was short-lived. A foot injury in the second quarter of that OSU game sent him back to the sidelines, where he spent the remaining games. He finished the 2016 season with 410 total yards he collected during the five games he was on the field.
Then, two weeks ago, he announced he would be leaving the Wildcat program before next season, saying he wanted to have “a fresh start at another program to finish out my senior year.” He is planning to graduate before next season, which would make him eligible to play right away at an FBS school.
That leaves the Arizona program with two quarterbacks that will bring some experience to the table in 2017. Brandon Dawkins, who saw limited playing time in 2015 and started nine games this past season, and Khalil Tate, who played in seven this season, one as starter.
Rodriguez, who just finished his fifth season at the helm of the Pac-12 program, likes to keep Wildcats fans in suspense each season, waiting until just days before the opener to name his starting quarterback for the season.
Next season, there will be six hopefuls, including Dawkins and Tate, vying for the starting job. Zach Werlinger and Gunther Johnson are already on board, Braxton Burmeister is expected to enroll in January, and Rhett Rodrguez will round out the hopefuls after graduation in the spring.
Dawkins should have the inside track after playing in 10 games this season, compiling 2,292 yards of offense that included 944 rushing and 1,348 passing. Khalil, who Rodriguez had hoped to redshirt this season, was pressed into service while both Dawkins and Tate were sidelined with injuries. The true freshman, a four-star recruit from California, played in seven games, accounted for one touchdown, and finished with 480 total yards.
Three of next year’s hopefuls are local athletes. Zach Werlinger, a redshirt junior from Basha High School in Chandler, played in one game last season. Gunther Johnson is a 2016 graduate of Boulder Creek High School in Anthem who used this season as a redshirt year. And the third local recruit is Rhett Rodriguez, the coach’s son who is finishing his senior season at Foothills High School in Tucson.
Braxton Burmeister, a four-star prospect from California, plans to enroll next month. The highly-recruited dual-threat quarterback had committed to the Wildcat program as a sophomore, de-committed early this year, and then re-committed after graduating from La Jolla Country Day in California.
There’s only one thing for certain next season. The Wildcats will have a new starter at quarterback for the first time in four years.
And, if Rodriguez stays true to form, we won’t know who that first-game starter will be until just before the season opener.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)