We have reached 42 days — or only six 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, 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 kicking game.
1993 kicking game: The placekicker Steve McLaughlin is one of the most accomplished kickers in Arizona history. He was a consensus All-American in 1994, the same year he won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top placekicker. He made 80 percent of his kicks during the season, including 12-of-16 from beyond 40 yards and 3-of-5 from beyond 50 yards. Still holds the Arizona record with 23 field goals made in 1994. He made three field goals in 29-0 win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl that capped the 1993 season. An Arizona Hall of Famer, he was drafted in the third round by St. Louis in 1995, his lone season in the NFL. Punter Matt Peyton was a freshman in 1993 who averaged only 37 yards a punt. He developed into a second-team All-Pac-10 selection in 1996, when he averaged 43.7 yards per punt. He also handled placekicking duties in the 1996 season.
1998 kicking game: Mark McDonald saved his best for last that season making three field goals — including a career-long from 48 yards — against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, which proved to be crucial in the 23-20 win. He was 8-of-17 in the regular season in 1993 and 14-of-35 in his career. Punter Ryan Springston was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection in 1998. He averaged 41.7 yards per punt that season.
A look back at No. 42
— The best to wear No. 42 is Hank “Birdlegs” Stanton, an Arizona Hall of Famer who was a first team Little All-American in 1941 and All-Border Conference in 1940 and 1941. He was also named to Rocky Mountain area (NCAA District 7) all-time team. He once held the national record for most receptions in a season with 50 for 820 yards in 1941. A talented athlete, he also led the 1940-41 baseball team with a .367 batting average. Another No. 42 worth mentioning is former defensive end Brooks Reed, a Sabino graduate who was an All-Pac-10 selection in 2010.
Wearing No. 42 this year
Redshirt freshman cornerback Azizi Hearn, of Oceanside, Calif., High School, is wearing No. 42 for the Wildcats. He finished second in San Diego County in receptions and helped guide his team to a CIF championship.
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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.