We have reached 26 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).
READER POLL RESULTS
Earlier in the countdown, we presented 13 categories for readers to vote on breaking down the 1993 vs. 1998 competition:
The results are in … and the 1998 team is the clear choice as the better of the two among readers, topping the 1993 team in nine out of 13 categories:
The 1998’s Chris McAlister was a significant reason why his team topped the 1993’s defensive backs and return game. The 1998 defensive backs with McAlister starring at cornerback was the only defensive unit chosen over the 1993’s vaunted Desert Swarm. McAlister, along with Dennis Northcutt, gave the 1998 team a distinct advantage in the return game as well.
The 1998 offense also swept every position by significant margins, with the closest being the offensive line comparison. The 1998 team, led by Morris Trophy winner Yusuf Scott, still won that by a difference of 67.6 percent to 32.4 percent.
The readers have spoken, without a doubt, the 1998 is the greatest team in school history, especially when lined up position-by-position, category-by-category against the 1993 team.
Still not believing? That’s the beauty of sports with teams from different time frames. You can always argue about it over a beer.
A look back at No. 26
— The best Wildcat to wear No. 26 was the late great Dave Liggins, a safety who transferred to Arizona from Cincinnati during the Tony Mason era and played with the Wildcats from 1978 to 1980. Liggins earned Defensive Player of the Game honors in the 1979 Fiesta Bowl loss against Pittsburgh. Liggins intercepted future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino twice in that game. Liggins passed away in 2016 from liver problems. At one point, he required a liver transplant.
Wearing No. 26 now
The number is shared by two players — fourth-year junior punter/receiver Matt Aragon (a former Cienega High School standout) and sophomore linebacker Anthony Pandy. Aragon punted in one game, against Washington State, in 2016 as a redshirt freshman and averaged 38.7 yards a punt. He worked with the receivers last season but did not see action. Pandy played in 11 games last year as a true freshman and he tallied nine tackles, including an impressive 2.5 for loss, one of them a sack.
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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.