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It could be another banner season for Scooby Wright and Arizona

It could be another banner season for Scooby Wright and Arizona
Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III is one the nation's top returning players. He won the Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik awards last season. (Dean Hare / Associated Press)

The Times' annual college football countdown continues its march toward No. 1 with our pick for No. 13.

Arizona's best player has a name that screams for attention, but a disposition that prefers to whisper. Scooby Wright III wasn't even one of the two Wildcats players brought to Pac-12 Conference football media days in Burbank last month.

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Last spring, following one of the greatest seasons by a defensive player in college football history, Wright begged Coach Rich Rodriguez not to post his picture next to the school's other football All-Americans.

"Can't you wait until I'm done playing here?" Wright asked.

Wright is worried accolades will compromise his story of the lightly regarded high school player from Northern California who overcame the odds. Wright's Twitter handle, "@TwoStarScoob" — the top prospects are typically awarded four or five stars by recruiting services — serves as a daily reminder of his humble origins.

Wright couldn't hide from the spotlight last year, though, winning numerous awards — Nagurski, Lombardi, Bednarik — following a season in which he recorded 163 tackles, including 29 for losses.

He single-handedly clinched the team's regular-season upset at Oregon when he sacked Marcus Mariota, stripped him of the ball and recovered the fumble.

Wright, whose given name is Phillip, isn't about to change the nickname that has stuck since he was a baby. He represents all the two-star castoffs in a program that feeds on neglect.

Arizona doesn't have to look far for motivation. The Wildcats last season won the Pac-12 South — arguably the nation's toughest division — yet were picked to finish fourth this season.

Rodriguez mockingly embraced the disrespect by quoting Lloyd Christmas from the movie "Dumb and Dumber:"

"So you're saying we have a chance?"

Yes, Arizona has a chance. The problem with the Wildcats' 10-win 2014 season was that it ended with two losses, a wipeout loss to Oregon in a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, and a Fiesta Bowl loss to Boise State.

Quarterback Anu Solomon, who had an otherwise brilliant freshman season, played poorly against Oregon and made a bonehead play in the final seconds of the Fiesta Bowl when he took a sack with no timeouts remaining. It was not indicative of the maturity Solomon had shown all season.

Arizona returns one of the best quarterback-tailback-receiver combinations in the league. Tailback Nick Wilson, as a freshman, rushed for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns; receiver Cayleb Jones had 73 catches for 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns.

The offensive line lost three starters, but found a formidable left tackle in Freddie Tagaloa, a transfer from California who is a human eclipse at 6 feet 8, 320 pounds.

Arizona could be poised for a national top-10 run. The nonconference schedule is made up of Texas San Antonio, Nevada and Northern Arizona, and the Wildcats miss Oregon in Pac-12 play.

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Arizona should be 3-0 when it plays host to UCLA on Sept. 28 in an early Pac-12 South showdown. The Wildcats, the next week, play at Stanford.

Rodriguez is peeved his team drew the unlucky scheduling straw this season and has to play 12 consecutive weeks.

Two years ago, it was Cal. "If you're going alphabetically, who is next?" Rodriguez sarcastically said. "A, B, C, oh, we went backwards."

He can still hope that after fits and stops through the years Arizona football might be ready for the great leap forward.

Top 25 so far: 25. Michigan; 24. Nebraska; 23. Utah; 22. Missouri; 21. Arkansas; 20. Tennessee. 19. Boise State; 18. Oklahoma; 17. Notre Dame; 16. Wisconsin; 15. Georgia Tech; 14. UCLA.

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