We have reached 45 days until 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, the winningest coach in Arizona history (95-64-4 from 1987 to 2000).
We started the debate last Friday when it was 50 days to kickoff. Here are the positions — with reader polls included — we have covered so far:
— Running backs/offensive backfield
Today, the position shifts to the defense, specifically the defensive line.
1993 defensive line: Wow, where to start? These positions were at the heart of the Desert Swarm defense, which allowed a mere 30.1 yards rushing per game (only 368 yards in 11 regular season games). The Wildcats recovered 20 fumbles. They shut out Miami in the Fiesta Bowl 29-0, the first shutout in the game’s history. Two of the players on the line are in the College Football Hall of Fame — defensive end Tedy Bruschi and nose tackle Rob Waldrop.
Bruschi, now an NFL analyst at ESPN, compiled 185 total tackles (137 solos), with 74 tackles for losses, six fumbles and recovered five others and tied the NCAA Division I-A sack record with 52 sacks in his career. He was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American in 1994 and 1995, and won the 1995 Morris Trophy as the Pac-10’s best defensive lineman. He went on to win three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.
Waldrop was recognized as a consensus first-team All-American in 1992 and 1993. He was also the recipient of the Outland Trophy as the best interior lineman in the country, the Nagurski Award as the best defensive player, and United Press International’s Lineman of the Year award.
The two unsung players on the line — defensive tackle Jim Hoffman and defensive end Jimmie Hopkins — were also two formidable forces. Hoffman ranks sixth in school history with 22.5 career sacks. Hopkins was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection in 1993 after not participating in spring drills that season because he prepared himself to join the Army, of which he served after his Arizona career.
1998 defensive line: This unit was dominant in its own way with defensive ends Joe Tafoya and Eli Wnek and tackles Daniel Greer and Keoni Fraser as opponents rushed for only 94.8 yards per game. Wnek and Fraser stood out as freshmen.
Tafoya, who went on to play seven years in the NFL, was a two-time All-Pac-10 second team selection. He ranks fourth in school history with 24.5 career sacks, including a team-best 10 in 1999. Wnek was a three-time All-Pac-10 All-Academic selection in 1998 and 2001 as a defensive end and in 2000 as a tight end.
Fraser was a Sporting News Freshman All-American in 1998. He tied a school record with five fumbles recovered in 2000. Greer was a first team All-Pac-10 selection in 1998, leading the Wildcats with nine sacks.
A look back at No. 45
— The best to wear No. 45 raises a good argument between four-year starter Charlie Camp, who was a member of the Desert Swarm defense, and Antonio Pierce, who stood out for the Wildcats in 1999 and 2000 after transferring from Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. Pierce is now an ASU assistant after serving as an ESPN analyst and head coach at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High School. Camp is the linebackers coach at Texas-San Antonio. He has coached for 20 years, including in 2002 with Arizona as the defensive ends coach. Because of his four-year starting status and the fact he led the Wildcats with 90 tackles as a senior in 1995 gives Camp the nod here. Pierce had 77 tackles to lead the Wildcats as a senior.
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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.