Growing up my parents liked to remind me to “expect the unexpected” so that’s the approach I’m taking as we close in on August and ramp up to what many perceive to be an unpredictable fall in Arizona sports.
Below is a team-by-team breakdown including some of the bigger unknowns each faces.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: All eyes in Flagstaff are on the quarterback competition between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, but Ken Whisenhunt and his staff have other questions to answer during the pre-season including if Beanie Wells, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list before camp will be healthy by the season opener as he promised. At tight end, can Todd Heap and Rob Housler stay healthy and produce? Defensively, it’s out with the old (Joey Porter, Clark Haggans) and in with the new (Sam Acho, O’Brien Schofield) at linebacker. Both must prove last season’s success wasn’t a fluke. On top of it all, the defending NFC West champion 49ers appear to be even better heading into the season.
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS: New head coach Todd Graham has done everything right since taking over for Dennis Erickson after the Devils lopsided bowl loss to Boise State. He’s shook hands, kissed babies and fulfilled endless media requests in hopes of spreading the word of ASU football. He also has a quarterback competition but some believe sophomore Michael Bercovici and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank both could play depending on the situation. As a whole, how will the new coaching staff mesh with the Erickson holdovers and will the fragile Sun Devil fan base respond if there are bumps in the road early with games against Illinois, Missouri, Cal and Oregon?
ARIZONA WILDCATS: There’s a renewed buzz in Tucson with Rich Rodriguez taking over for Mike Stoops who seemed to wear out his welcome before getting fired by AD Greg Byrne in early October. Matt Scott appears to be a nice fit taking over for Nick Foles under center, but the fifth-year senior isn’t exactly a seasoned vet. Two of the ‘Cats top offensive linemen missed spring practice and their status in unknown heading into fall camp. Defensively UofA is fast, but not particularly big and you have to wonder how the front of Rich Rod’s 3-3-5 defense will hold up over the grind of the Pac-12 season.
PHOENIX SUNS: Alvin Gentry should require every player wear name tags when the team reports for training camp in a couple of months. The front office promised change after failing to make the playoffs for a second straight year, but few could have predicted a completely overhauled roster. Out are Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Robin Lopez and Hakeem Warrick. In are Luis Scola, Michael Beasley, Goran Dragic and Wesley Johnson. The Suns got younger, but did they get better? We likely won’t know until around Christmas and Robert Sarver is banking the luster of his new-look team won’t be worn off by then. Gentry, who didn’t get a much-deserved contract extension this summer, will need to find players to lead the team both on and off the floor like Nash and Hill did in the past. Jared Dudley is the longest tenured Sun having played in Phoenix since the mid-point of the 2008-09 season.
PHOENIX COYOTES: No situation is messier than what’s going on in Glendale. The seemingly never-ending soap opera between Glendale, the NHL and prospective buyer Greg Jamison continues while the face of the franchise, free-agent Shane Doan waits patiently as the summer days slip away. After turning the Valley ‘Coyote Crazy’ during their improbable run to the Western Conference Finals, the off-the-ice uncertainty has tempered for the moment any momentum head coach Dave Tippett and the franchise had moving forward. There may be some resolution by the end of the month when the Jobing.com Arena lease deal expires. The big question fans want to know is how long the highly respected Doan, who is being courted by over a dozen teams, can wait for a possible Jamison Group deal to be struck. To further complicate matters, the ‘Yotes also lost top point-scorer Ray Whitney who signed a free-agent deal with Dallas this off-season.