We have reached 43 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:
Today, the position shifts to the defensive backs.
1993 defensive backs: This group consisted of cornerbacks Claudius Wright and Jey Phillips and safeties Brandon Sanders and Tony Bouie. Wright led the Desert Swarm defense with nine passes broken up in 1993. Phillips, a captain for Tomey, was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection that season. Sanders, the strong safety, became a two-time All-Pac-10 selection in 1994 and 1995. He ranks eighth in school history with 29 passes broken up in his career, including a team-best nine in 1994. His three fumbles caused in 1993 led the Desert Swarm. He played two seasons with the New York Giants in 1997 and 1998. Bouie, the free safety, was a first team All-Pac-10 selection in 1993 and became a consensus first-team All-American in 1994. His 13 career interceptions ranks tied for seventh in school history, which includes seven in 1993. In 1991 as a freshman, Bouie led the Wildcats with 86 tackles. The Arizona Sports Hall of Famer played four years in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1995 to 1998.
1998 defensive backs: Chris McAlister and Kelvin Hunter were the standout cornerbacks and Greg Payne and Rafell Jones started at the safety positions. As great as Sanders and Bouie were for the 1993 team, McAlister is arguably the biggest name in either group. He was a unanimous All-American in 1998. Showing his athleticism, McAlister earned the national Mosi Tatupu Award in 1998 for his top performance in the return game. He twice returned kicks 100 yards in his career, including in the season opener at Hawaii in 1998. He also blocked two kicks in 1998. He was also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award given to the top defensive back in the nation. He was a three-time All-Pac-10 selection from 1996 to 1998. He ranks third in school history with 18 career interceptions despite playing only three seasons. He had a team-high 15 passes broken up in 1998. A first-round pick in the NFL draft (10th overall) by the Baltimore Ravens in 1999, McAlister was a two-time Pro Bowl selection in his 11-year career. Hunter was a good complement to McAlister, tying him with 27 passes broken up in a career, which ranks 11th in school history. Payne, the strong safety, was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection in 1998.
A look back at No. 43
— The best to wear No. 43 is the father of the famed Peete football family in Tucson. Willie Peete, a standout slotback for the Wildcats from 1956 to 1959, later coached at Arizona under Larry Smith. His son Willie III played for the Wildcats before transferring to Kansas after Willie Sr. got a job with the Kansas City Chiefs. His other son, Rodney, starred at quarterback at Sahuaro before playing his senior season in Overland Park, Kansas. He went on to excel at USC and play 16 years in the NFL.
Wearing No. 43 this year
Sophomore placekicker Lucas Havrisik made three of four field goal attempts last season, including a school-record tying 57-yarder in the win over Washington State.
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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.