We have reached 30 days until the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 campaign 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 when it was 50 days to kickoff. All of the reader polls can be accessed here (you still have time to vote):
Mythical game Part III
Quarterback Dan White knew better than to throw excessively on 1998 cornerback Chris McAlister’s side of the field. Troy Dickey, at 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds, matched up well in terms of size against McAlister, an abnormally tall cornerback at 6-1 and 210 pounds, but White did not want to take too many chances. On the other side of the field, the speedy receiver Terry Vaughn, at 5-8 and 173 pounds, went against equally athletic Kelvin Hunter (5-9 and 169).
Chuck Levy, who had the athleticism and quickness to offset most defense, was a good escape valve out of the backfield against the 1998 defense, which had a talented linebacking core of Marcus Bell, DaShon Polk and Scooter Sprotte. Levy was able to free himself for a brief moment over the middle, and White connected with him for a 25-yard gain to the 1998’s 38-yard line.
A slant pattern to Dickey went incomplete, straight-ahead runner Billy Johnson managed a 5-yard gain, and a pass to flanker Richard Dice was just out of reach at the 20-yard line. Steve McLaughlin lined up for a 50-yard field goal and nailed it with 11:25 left in the second quarter to put the 1993 team ahead 3-0.
The 1998 team on the ensuing possession managed a first down run by Trung Canidate but the drive stalled on the next series of downs. The Desert Swarm defense again flexed their muscles against the 1998 offense, which could strike at any time with Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins at quarterback.
Mixing up the run with the pass, White was able to string three consecutive completions to Dice, tight end Rod Lewis and Vaughn before 1998’s Joe Tafoya managed to finally break through the 1993’s talented offensive line for a sack, making it second down and 16 at the 1998’s 45-yard line. A reverse to Vaughn caught the 1998 defense off guard and he ran 20 yards to the 25. Three players later, after mustering seven more yards, the 1993 team resorted to another field goal by McLaughlin, this one from 35 yards. The 1993 team led 6-0 with 5:15 left before the half.
McLaughlin’s kickoff did not go as far as he wanted, landing into McAlister’s hands two yards into the end zone. His elusive running and quickness enabled him to break free in the middle past a couple of blocks. He turned up field as he sprinted toward the sideline. He was finally dragged down at the 1998’s 42-yard line. The long return ignited the 1998 team. Jenkins came in at quarterback and his rollouts to offset the Desert Swarm as much as possible. He ran for seven yards, followed by a pass to Dennis Northcutt covered 21 yards before cornerback Jey Phillips and strong safety Brandon Sanders could bring him down. After running plays by Canidate and Kelvin Eafon netted six yards, Jenkins rolled out a again, faked a pass and tucked it in for a 9-yard gain to the 1993’s 15-yard line.
Bouie nearly intercepted a tipped pass and Canidate was stopped for a 4-yard gain. Jenkins executed another rollout to his right and spotted Eafon over the middle out of the backfield. Eafon was able to elude two defenders and stretched into the end zone. The Desert Swarm could not subdue the potent 1998 offense on this drive, engineered by Jenkins. The extra-point by Mark McDonald put the 1998 team ahead 7-6 at almost halftime.
“A defensive struggle is being waged, but it was the 1998 team — not the dominant Desert Swarm — that kept the opponent out of the end zone to this point,” Keith Jackson said. “In the battle of the ages, the Wildcats of 1998 have the upper hand, but this is far from over. No sir. So much football to be played. This is brewing to be something good.”
Tomorrow: The teams get offensive.
A look back at No. 30
— The best to wear No. 30 is running back Trung Canidate, a member of the 1998 team. Before Ka’Deem Carey came around, Canidate was Arizona’s career-leading rusher with 3,824 yards, including school-record 1,602 as a senior in 1999. He would go on to play four years in the NFL, three with the St. Louis Rams and one with Washington.
Wearing No. 30 now
Fifth-year senior Josh Pollack will handle the placekicking duties after going 20 of 29 in the last two seasons. His career long is 46 yards. He was 11 of 15 last season with a long of 45 yards.
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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.