Arizona Wildcats’ Top 10 Returning Players in 2024 Include Noah Fifita, Tetairoa McMillan

    Arizona enters its first year in the Big 12 with expectations, but can these top 10 returning players make the Wildcats championship challengers?

    The Arizona Wildcats enter 2024 as a member of the Big 12 and are expected to be early conference championship contenders. They already rank 11th on our early Top 25 College Football Rankings and are expected to follow up their 10 wins in 2023 with another solid campaign thanks to the talent among their top 10 returning players.

    However, with Jedd Fisch leaving the program to take up head coaching responsibilities with the Washington Huskies, Brent Brennan moves over from the San Jose State Spartans as the Wildcats look to mount a playoff challenge.

    Arizona Wildcats’ Top 10 Returners in 2024

    Analyzing the returning players at every school is a difficult task in the transfer portal area. As such, we’ve included transfer-portal athletes on each team’s roster page to open spring camp in addition to the rostered players from last year.

    10) Bill Norton, DT

    Bill Norton is a stalwart of the Arizona defensive line, possessing reliable, consistent, and bruising run-stuffing skills. The starting nose tackle returns in 2024 for his sixth year of eligibility and his second with the Wildcats. Before moving to Tucson, Norton was a rotational piece for Georgia and won the 2022 College Football National Championship with the Bulldogs.

    However, Norton found a home with the Wildcats and had a career year in production after starting 13 games in 2023. The Arizona defensive tackle has become a crucial component of the Wildcats’ defensive line by recording 32 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, two forced fumbles, and three pass breakups.

    9) Justin Flowe, LB

    Justin Flowe returns to Arizona in 2024 after appearing in 13 games in his first year in Tucson. While he struggled for consistency throughout the year, Flowe had a career year, registering 44 tackles, two for a loss, and one sack.

    However, the former five-star has flashed promise throughout his career, and 2024 could be the year Flowe realizes his potential. After transferring from Oregon ahead of the 2023 season, there are big expectations for the Wildcats’ linebacker that he still needs to reach, but he is starting to unlock his talent.

    8) Tre Smith, DE

    Tre Smith has followed Brennan to Arizona from San Jose State and is expected to have an immediate impact in Tucson. His 6.5 sacks with the Spartans in 2023 would have tied for second on the Wildcats a year ago.

    With Taylor Upshaw leaving for the NFL Draft, the Wildcats need a productive pass rusher to fill the void. With 66 tackles, 9.5 for a loss, 6.5 sacks, and one forced fumble a year ago, Smith can be the player who steps up and fills that role.

    7) Jonah Savaiinaea, OL

    Jonah Savaiinaea was an essential part of the Widlcats’ offensive line in 2023, starting at right tackle opposite Jordan Morgan, who is NFL-bound. As he heads into his junior year, he will likely stick at RT for the 2024 season.

    Savaiinaea started all 13 games last fall and only allowed two sacks on 889 snaps. It comes after the Arizona RT started 12 games as a freshman in 2022 and has consistently been one of the top blockers on the team.

    6) Dalton Johnson, DB

    Dalton Johnson took his starting opportunity with distinction in 2023 after spending his first two seasons with the Wildcats as a backup and special teamer. The strong safety is an absolute thumper who plays with toughness and physicality.

    MORE: Arizona Wildcats Mascot History 

    In his first year as a starter, Johnson put up the second-most tackles on the team with 86. Meanwhile, he also forced four forced fumbles, which tied him for the most in the Pac-12. Johnson should thrive in the strong safety role again in 2024 and is a crowd favorite in Tucson.

    5) Gunner Maldonado, S

    The safety tandem in Tucson took huge strides forward in 2023, as Gunner Maldonado also had a breakout season. With 81 tackles, one for a loss, two team-leading interceptions, one pass breakup, and two forced fumbles, Maldonado was highly productive last fall.

    With a season starting under his belt, the former Northwestern transfer should improve again in 2024 as one of the strongest secondaries in the conference.

    4) Tacario Davis, CB

    Despite entering the transfer portal after Fisch was announced as Washington’s next head coach, Tacario Davis is still in Tucson. He has been added to the 2024 roster, and while the spring transfer portal could still throw a curveball, it was a massive boost for Arizona to return one of the top cornerbacks in the country.

    Davis’ 2023 season was highly productive. He led the conference with 15 pass breakups as well as 25 tackles, 0.5 for a loss, and one interception. A special outside corner standing at 6’4” with lockdown potential, Davis’ name is already on the lips of NFL scouts.

    3) Jacob Manu, LB

    Jacob Manu has established himself as the true leader of the Wildcats’ defense and heads into his junior season after an impressive 2023 campaign. Starting all 13 games and leading the Pac-12 with 116 tackles, Manu also recorded 9.5 tackles for a loss, a team-leading 6.5 sacks, one interception, and two pass breakups.

    The versatile linebacker returns as one of the most productive in the nation and personifies the Wildcats’ defensive identity. A year ago, Manu earned First-Team All-Pac-12 honors and can repeat his success in 2024.

    2) Noah Fifita, QB

    Noah Fifita had to wait his turn to star in Tucson after redshirting in 2022, but he excelled with the offensive reins in 2023.

    The Wildcats’ quarterback established himself as one of the best in the country, earning Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year as well as several other awards.

    KEEP READING: 2024 Arizona Wildcats Football Roster

    Fifita started nine games after Jayden De Laura handed him the starting job and completed 241 of his 33 passes for 2,869 yards, 25 touchdowns, and six interceptions.

    Fifita’s enigmatic presence, poise, and precision make him an early Heisman Trophy candidate. Expected to compete as one of the top signal callers in the nation, the sky is the limit for the QB, who has an incredible connection with Tetairoa McMillan.

    1) Tetairoa McMillan, WR

    McMillan returns to Arizona as potentially the top wide receiver in college football. His ultra-productive 2023 season saw the Wildcats’ WR have a team-leading 1,402 yards while snagging 10 touchdowns from 90 receptions.

    At 6’5 and 210 pounds, McMillan has already caught the eyes of NFL scouts and will be one of the favorites for the Biletnikoff Award in 2024. Given his connection with Fifita, McMillan can repeat last season’s success and maybe even better it.

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