We have reached the last 38 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 39th 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 when it was 50 days to kickoff. Here are the debates — with reader polls included — we have covered so far:
Today, the debate shifts to the magnitude of each bowl victory.
1993 Fiesta Bowl vs. Miami:
Arizona’s heralded “Desert Swarm” defense lived up to its name, and the Cats’ offensive attack came to life as the UA thumped No. 10 Miami, 29-0, in IBM OS/2 Fiesta Bowl. The convincing victory was the bowl’s only shutout in its 23-game history. UA ran for 257 yards and one touchdown, passed for 152 yards and two touchdowns, had three Steve McLaughlin field goals and held Miami to 182 yards in total offense. The Wildcats’ swarming defense limited the Canes to Fiesta Bowl record-lows of 22 rushes and 35 yards, plus picked off three Miami passes and sacked the quarterback four times.
Tailback Chuck Levy ran for 142 yards including a 68-yard scoring dash and earned Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP honors, while defensive end Tedy Bruschi recorded a sack and earned defensive MVP honors for UA.
UA jumped to a quick lead on its first possession, driving 75 yards with Dan White throwing a 13-yard TD pass to Troy Dickey. Arizona never looked back. The Canes’ total offense was the second-lowest in Fiesta Bowl history, and the Arizona margin of victory was the second-largest in bowl history. Arizona enjoyed a time of possession advantage of 37:20 to 22:40 for Miami, another bowl record. Miami’s frustration was typified by its first possession, starting at its own 37-yard line. Three plays later the Canes punted on fourth-and-41 from their own 6-yard line.
The game gave UA its first 10-victory season in 90 years of football, and its strong showing earned the Cats a No. 9 final ranking in the coaches poll and No. 10 in the AP poll.
Analysis: Miami finished 9-3 and ranked No. 15 in the AP poll. The Hurricanes went 3-3 against ranked teams. They were ranked as high as No. 3 starting 8-1 before losing to West Virginia 17-14 on Nov. 20. The Hurricanes were ranked No. 10 when facing Arizona. The Hurricanes, who were seventh nationally allowing only 13.9 points a game, had some heavy hitters including defensive tackle Warren Sapp and linebacker Ray Lewis.
1998 Holiday Bowl vs. Nebraska:
“(Arizona coach Dick Tomey) kept telling us the ‘N’ (on Nebraska’s helmet) stood for ‘Not today,’” former UA receiver and special teams player Brandon Nash told Anthony Gimino in a 2009 Tucson Citizen article.
Arizona’s defense held the storied Nebraska option rushing attack to 87 net yards, and the No. 5-ranked Wildcats scored 14 fourth-quarter points and beat the No. 14 Cornhuskers, 23-20. The Cats secured the school’s finest record in history and earned enough acclaim through their efforts in the game — the most watched of any college bowl game in ESPN history – to earn a final No. 4 ranking in both the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls. Unanimous All-America cornerback Chris McAlister cemented his reputation with an outstanding effort, intercepting two passes,
one which turned the Huskers back on their final come-back try with less than four minutes remaining. He also had a 78-yard reverse punt return called back because of a questionable blocking call against Derek Hall.
Nebraska claimed claimed a 20-16 lead with an eight-play, 88-yard drive. With 10 minutes remaining, the Cats ran the ball eight straight times for a nine-play, 68-yard drive which culminated on a Kelvin Eafon one-yard plunge. UA quarterback Keith Smith had runs of 20, eight and eight yards to set up the score. UA then stopped the Huskers with McAlister’s second pick and then later used enough clock with a first down to force Nebraska to get the ball back with 34 seconds remaining. One short completion and three incompletions, and the game was over.
Trung Canidate ran for 101 yards on 22 carries. Smith, who completed 11-of-19 passing for 143 yards and ran for 25 more, was named Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP. UA’s Mark McDonald, who was 8-17 in field goals during the regular season, was a big key with a perfect 3-for-3 day, including a career-long 48-yarder. Nebraska outgained the Cats, but UA won the turnover battle and kicking game
Analysis: This was not a vintage Nebraska team, which finished 9-4 and saw their four-game winning streak in bowl games snapped in Frank Solich’s first season after replacing the legendary Tom Osborne. It was the first four-loss season for Nebraska since 1968. The defeat denied Solich in his bid to become the school’s first coach to win 10 games in his first season. Nebraska, which finished No. 19 in the AP poll, was 1-3 against ranked teams and finished 4-4 after starting 5-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country.
A look back at No. 38
— The best to wear No. 38 is former running back Kelvin Eafon, who ranked among this site’s Top 10 Badasses in Arizona football history. A standout from 1996-98, Eafon originally attended Arizona on a basketball scholarship. He was Arizona’s offensive captain during its 12-1 season in 1998. “If we could all play as hard and as tough as Kelvin Eafon, we would win every game we played,” Tomey said in a 1997 Seattle Times article. In the 1996 Territorial Cup game in which the Rose Bowl-bound Sun Devils routed the Wildcats 56-14 at Arizona Stadium, ASU offensive linemen Glen Gable broke defensive lineman Daniel Greer’s ankle with an illegal blind-sided clip during a return. That sparked Eafon, who noticed the play and witnessed Tomey yelling at Gable, to sprint off the bench to knock down Gable. Eafon and Gable were ejected. The retaliation showed how much Eafon revered his teammates.
Wearing No. 38 now
Two players are wearing the number for the Wildcats — redshirt freshman cornerback Malik Hausman and fourth-year junior running back Branden Leon.
Hausman redshirted last year after being a standout for powerhouse Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman High School. While on a recruiting visit in Tucson, he tore his ACL and LCL while jumping out of the way of a drunk driver. As a result, he missed his senior season at Gorman rehabbing from that injury.
Leon has played in all 24 games the last two seasons as a reserve running back. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, gaining 81 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown last season. He gained 14 yards on his only carry of the game to help UA set a school record with 534 rushing yards against Oregon State on Nov. 11.
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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.