We have reached 49 days — or seven Saturdays from today — until tailgate season when the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 season under new coach Kevin Sumlin.
The season begins when Arizona hosts BYU on Sept. 1 at Arizona Stadium.
To get ready for the upcoming season, All Sports Tucson offers another countdown, which will include memories from former Wildcats, history notes and a look ahead to the season. Think of it as a way to keep Arizona football on the mind in the summer months leading up to fall camp in early August and then kickoff against the Cougars marking the start of the Sumlin Era.
To catch up on the countdown click on this: Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff.
1993 vs. 1998
The season marks some substantial anniversaries. It is the 40th anniversary since the Wildcats joined the Pac-12 (went from the Pac-8 to the Pac-10 then) and also the 20th anniversary of the 1998 team with the best record in school history, 12-1, and the 25th anniversary of the 1993 team that went 10-2 with a win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.
A debate among Arizona followers has developed in recent years over which team was better — the 1993 team that brought the program the famed Desert Swarm defense (one of the top units in the history of college football) or the 1998 team that finished No. 4 in the nation and came basically a half away against UCLA from going unbeaten.
My colleague Anthony Gimino wrote about this debate for the Tucson Citizen in 2013.
Both teams were coached by Dick Tomey.
We started the debate yesterday pitting the two offensive lines against each other with a poll asking readers their choice of which is the best.
Today, the position shifts to quarterback.
1993 quarterback: Dan White was a three-year starting quarterback for Arizona from 1993 to 1995 after transferring from Penn State and sitting out a year. With White the starter in 1993, Arizona’s offense was efficient. In the Fiesta Bowl against Miami that season, where White threw for 2 touchdowns in the 29-0 drubbing of the 10th-ranked Hurricanes. White continued as the starting quarterback until 1995, finishing with 43 touchdown passes in his career. His top achievement was going 3-0 against ASU, throwing seven touchdowns and only one interception in those three games.
1998 quarterbacks: Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins shared the quarterback duties to near perfection. Smith set Arizona’s single-season completion percentage record during 1998, his junior season (68.5 percent, 113-of-165). That mark stood until Nick Foles produced a 69.1 percentage during the 2011 season. Smith was a second team All-Pac-10 selection in 1998. He tallied 5,972 passing yards and 42 TDs during his career. Combining his rushing and passing numbers, Smith posted 7,049 total yards on 1,021 attempts. He rushed for 199 yards on 49 carries in 1998. Jenkins passed for 1,011 yards in 1998 (completing 70 of 142 passes) and rushed for 156 yards on 56 carries with two touchdowns, one of them the famous “Leap by the Lake” against Washington when he went head over heels into the end zone to beat the Huskies in Seattle.
A look back at No. 49
— The best No. 49 in Arizona history was part of the Desert Swarm defense in 1993 — linebacker Sean Harris, a Tucson High grad who had 32.5 tackles for loss in his Arizona career before playing with the Chicago Bears in the NFL. He was a two-time first-team All-Pac-10 player, in 1993 and 1994. He earned first-team All-America honors by the Scripps Howard news service in 1993 and was a third-team Associated Press All-American that season. He led the Wildcats in tackles in 1992 and 1994.
A look ahead to 2018
Wearing No. 49 this year is Harris’ son, redshirt freshman linebacker Jalen Harris. The younger Harris’ mother, Cha-Ron Harris, played for the Wildcats’ women’s basketball team from 1996 to 1998.
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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.