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Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State while wondering how Cloud Nine feels for Greg Byrne with the Wildcats dominating the headlines in Phoenix this week. …
1. Precursor to bigger games for Arizona?
The only previous time Arizona has faced a conference champion in a bowl game was back in 1921, when the Wildcats lost to power Centre (Ky.) in the San Diego East-West Christmas Classic. Centre (10-1) was the champion of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association and victors over Harvard, which was the equivalent of Alabama today.
Pitt, Arizona’s opponent in the 1979 Fiesta Bowl, was an independent back then. The Panthers finished 11-1 and were awarded the Lambert-Meadowlands Trophy as the champion of the East. That does not count because of a lack of a conference affiliation.
Boise State is the champion of the Mountain West Conference, which is not a Power 5 conference but a competitive one nonetheless.
Could this be a foreshadowing to Arizona playing major conference champions going forward? A spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals?
After Arizona’s two most significant bowl appearances — the 1994 Fiesta Bowl and 1998 Holiday Bowl — the Wildcats could not build upon their historic wins over Miami and Nebraska, respectively.
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Arizona’s record in the recruiting cycle of the four years after the 1994 Fiesta Bowl: 26-20. After the 1998 Holiday Bowl: 20-26.
For Arizona to avoid such a collapse again Rich Rodriguez will have to remain in Tucson and use the tremendous exposure of the Fiesta Bowl to make significant recruiting gains.
2. Three different QBs, three straight bowl appearances.
That has never been accomplished in Arizona history.
The Wildcats have advanced to bowl games in three consecutive years before, from 2008 to 2010, behind Willie Tuitama (in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl) and Nick Foles (the 2009 Holiday Bowl and 2010 Alamo Bowl). And also from 1992 to 1994, with the quarterbacks being George Malauulu (1992 John Hancock Bowl) and Dan White (1994 Fiesta Bowl and 1994 Freedom Bowl).
Matt Scott engineered the comeback win over Nevada in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl. B.J. Denker was Arizona’s starter last year in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.
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Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon has already made history by becoming the Wildcats’ first freshman to start a season-opener. He followed that with record passing yards (3,458) and touchdown passes (27) for a freshman quarterback wearing the cardinal red and navy blue.
Now, he is Arizona’s first freshman to start a bowl game. The list of Arizona starting quarterbacks with the bowls:
1921 East-West Christmas Classic (San Diego): Alter Louis Slonaker, senior
1949 Salad Bowl (Phoenix): Eddie Wolgast, sophomore
1968 Sun Bowl (El Paso): Bruce Lee, senior
1979 Fiesta Bowl (Tempe): Jim Krohn, senior
1985 Sun Bowl (El Paso): Alfred Jenkins, junior
1986 Aloha Bowl (Honolulu): Jenkins, senior
1989 Copper Bowl (Tucson): Ronald Veal, junior
1990 Aloha Bowl (Honolulu): George Malauulu, sophomore
1992 John Hancock Bowl (El Paso): Malauulu, senior
1994 Fiesta Bowl (Tempe): Dan White, sophomore
1994 Freedom Bowl (Anaheim, Calif.): White, junior
1997 Insight.com Bowl (Tucson): Brady Batten, senior
1998 Holiday Bowl (San Diego): Keith Smith, senior
2008 Las Vegas Bowl: Willie Tuitama, senior
2009 Holiday Bowl (San Diego): Nick Foles, sophomore
2010 Alamo Bowl (San Antonio): Foles, junior
2012 New Mexico Bowl (Albuquerque): Matt Scott, senior
2013 AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Shreveport, La.): B.J. Denker, senior
2014 Fiesta Bowl (Glendale): Anu Solomon, freshman
3. Roh, Roh, Roh your boat …
Boise State tight end Jake Roh had all the makings of a future Arizona player coming from Scottsdale Chaparral, which has produced more than a handful of talent for the Wildcat program in recent years.
Arizona was reportedly the first school to offer Roh a scholarship. The Wildcats wanted him to play defense, like his older brother Craig Roh did at the University of Michigan. However, Jake wanted to attend college out of the state. He went with Boise State. Most of Roh’s family is still in Scottsdale and they are expected to cheer on Boise State tomorrow.
Craig Roh was recruited out of Chaparral to Michigan by Rich Rodriguez in 2008 following Rodriguez’s first season in Ann Arbor, Mich. He went on to become a standout defensive end for the Wolverines, playing his last two seasons under Brady Hoke.
He was an outspoken defender of Rodriguez when the coach was criticized by Michigan’s media and fans during his final season there in 2010.
“He’s had more on him than any other coach in the USA,” Craig Roh said about Rodriguez in a Sports Illustrated article. “He’s just stayed so positive, and he’s just kept his eyes toward the goal.”
Craig Roh never considered Arizona during the recruiting process in 2008. He picked Michigan over Arizona State, Cal, Nebraska, Stanford, UCLA and USC.
4. Roof, or no roof, Fiesta Bowl will go on.
Somebody tweeted to Byrne this week if umbrellas will be allowed into University of Phoenix Stadium if it rains.
“Nope, dome will be closed if it rains,” Byrne responded.
Back in 1921, in Arizona’s first postseason appearance, domed stadiums were something out of “War of the Worlds”. University of Phoenix Stadium actually looks like a UFO from a distance.
The East-West Christmas Classic in San Diego on Dec. 26, 1921, was played in a torrential downpour with Centre College of Danville, Ky., beating Arizona 38-0. The field looked like a swamp.
The reports leading into that game indicated that the event was insured for $25,000 if the weather conditions made it impossible to play. J.F. “Pop” McKale let organizers know that Arizona would be willing to stay in San Diego another day if the game had to be postponed.
The game went on in muddy, sloppy conditions, and Arizona had a miserable showing. As it turned out, McKale was likely glad to get out of there as soon as possible.
5. Boise State a future Pac-14 opponent?
Boise State and San Diego State are two schools that are mentioned most as possible expansion institutions for the Pac-12. The two programs are in the Mountain West. They almost went to the Big East a couple of years ago.
“When we expanded in the past we looked at them because they are prominent schools in the West, with very strong athletics programs, in markets we are not in,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in a San Diego Union-Tribune story in 2012. “There’s a lot of criteria that we looked at last time, that I’m sure we’d look at again.
“If we were to look at expanding again, I’m sure both those schools would be on the list. But, we don’t have any plans.”
Boise State already competes in the Pac-12 in wrestling.
The problem with adding the Broncos to the conference is Boise’s TV market. In a 2012 Nielsen market rating, Boise was ranked No. 113. From a competitive standpoint, Boise State would be a tremendous addition in football. Other than that, Scott might believe adding the Broncos is not worth the attempt.
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales, also an author, is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also has written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.