Arizona historically has started behind the pack in the Pac-12 race for the Rose Bowl, struggling in a majority of openers since 1995.
Go figure the Wildcats are still in search of that ever elusive Rose Bowl trip.
Utah (3-0) plays at Arizona (2-1) on Friday in the Pac-12 opener for both teams. It is Arizona’s fourth consecutive Pac-12 opener at home under Rich Rodriguez. The last time Arizona started conference play on the road was at rain-soaked Seattle in a 31-13 loss to Washington in 2013.
Since 1995, Arizona is 5-16 in conference openers.
Utah comes to Tucson with a No. 23 ranking.
The Wildcats against ranked opponents in conference openers?
They are, gulp, 0-12, including losses in five out of the last six seasons to No. 9 Washington last year (35-28 in overtime), No. 9 UCLA in 2015 (56-30), at No. 16 Washington in 2013 (31-13), at No. 3 Oregon in 2012 (49-0) and No. 6 Stanford in 2011 (37-10).
Going back to 1992, the Wildcats are a dismal 2-11 at Arizona Stadium in Pac-12 openers. The record should really be 1-12 in that span if not for Anu Solomon’s “Hill Mary” pass to Austin Hill in the 2014 Pac-12 opener against Cal at Arizona Stadium.
The other win was a 10-9 squeaker over Cal in 2010. That game was in doubt until 1:11 remained when Nick Foles connected on a 3-yard touchdown pass with Juron Criner. The winning seven-play, 77-yard drive came after Cal missed a 40-yard field goal with 2:37 to play.
Therefore, Arizona is two remarkable game-winning possessions late in the game in 2010 and 2014 against Cal from being 0-13 in Pac-12 home openers since 1992.
Let that sink in.
Ironically, Arizona enjoyed most of its success in conference openers in the decade or so after moving from the WAC to the conference in 1978.
From 1978 to 1991, the Wildcats were 12-2 in the openers, including an 8-1 record at Arizona Stadium.
The story behind that stretch is that Arizona did not play conference powers USC or Washington in any of those openers in that span. They lost both openers scheduled against another power, UCLA, in 1981 and 1987.
The Wildcats opened mostly against the conference’s second-tier programs at the time — Oregon State (four times), Washington State (twice), Oregon when it was down (twice) and Stanford also when it was not what it is today (twice).
Overall, Arizona is 20-19 in Pac-12 openers, but the slightly above .500 record is a facade. Its record in conference openers in the last 25 years, especially at home, is a black eye. A vast majority of their opening wins are not against traditional powers USC, UCLA and Washington.
The Wildcats have only played the Trojans, Bruins and Huskies eight times in the first game and they sport a 1-7 record, the lone win a 31-10 victory over Rick Neuheisel’s UCLA team in 2008 that finished 4-8 and had Kevin Craft as the starting quarterback.
On the bright side (if there is one) for Arizona followers: The Wildcats must be due when it comes to winning a conference opener against a ranked opponent, especially at home … right?
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.