We have reached 48 days 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 Friday when it was 50 days to kickoff. Here are the positions — with reader polls included — we have covered so far:
Today, the position shifts to running backs and the backfield.
1993 backfield: This team had three backs with at least 100 carries — Ontiwaun Carter (178), Chuck Levy (126) and Billy Johnson (100). They combined for 1,858 yards on 404 carries, an average of 4.6 yards a carry, led by Carter’s 837 yards on 178 carries (4.7 yards a carry). They also combined for 15 rushing touchdowns with Levy the leader with nine. Levy had 567 yards rushing and Johnson 454. Gary Taylor (345 yards on 78 carries) and Lamont Lovett (109 yards on 30 carries) were also utilized.
1998 backfield: Tomey used an interesting mix of tight ends and fullbacks into his rushing offense, unlike 1993 when his offense utilized mostly tailbacks. The use of tight end Brandon Manumaleuna and fullback Paul Shields in the backfield was primarily for blocking reasons and for them to flair out for passes. The primary rusher was All-Pac-10 selection Trung Canidate, who rushed for 1,220 yards on 167 carries (whopping 7.6 yards per carry) with 10 touchdowns. Tough runner Kelvin Eafon gained 532 yards on 145 carries with 16 touchdowns, most coming in short-yardage goal-line situations. Leon Callen chipped in with 276 yards on 63 carries. The quarterback tandem of Ortege Jenkins and Keith Smith combined for 355 yards on 105 carries with five touchdowns.
A look back at No. 48
— With all due respect to tight end wonder Rob Gronkowski, the best No. 48 in Arizona history was arguably the best tackler ever to wear a Wildcat uniform — linebacker Byron Evans (1983-86). He is an Arizona Hall of Fame member who ranks second on school’s list with 552 tackles. He went on to play eight seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles as part of one of the more successful defenses in NFL history. The “Gang Green” defense included the likes of Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons and Seth Joyner.
Evans was a second-team All-American, as selected by the Associated Press and Football News, in 1986. He was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1986. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a junior and senior. His 552 career tackles rank only behind the legendary Ricky Hunley (who finished with 566). Evans set the school record with 118 unassisted tackled in 1985 and came back with 111 more the next season. Counting bowl games (which the UA record book does not), Evans has two of the top three tackle seasons in Pac-12 history — 211 in 1985 and 210 in 1986.
Evans resides in his native Phoenix, where he has worked as coach, teacher and pastor.
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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.