We have reached 23 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.
The season marks some substantial anniversaries. It is the 40th anniversary since the Wildcats left the WAC to join 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.
To catch up on the countdown — which included in-depth analysis and reader polls on The Great Debate of which team was better — 1993 or 1998 — click on this: Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff.
Top 25 developments in Pac-10/12 era
Over the last part of the countdown we will rank the top 25 developments of Arizona’s Pac-10/12 existence that started in 1978 when it arrived with ASU from the WAC. The ranking will include player highlights, team accomplishments, coaching moves and other off-field developments. If a player is involved, the ranking includes happenings during the course of that athlete’s time at Arizona.
The ranking up to now:
Mike Stoops’ tenure
Mike Stoops’ time as Arizona’s coach was fulfilling — digging the Wildcats out of the grave the John Mackovic era placed them — but also disappointing as it seemed the former Oklahoma defensive coordinator could not sustain success while having the image of being wildly angry on the sideline with his players and coaching staffs. With his hiring by Arizona before the 2004 season, Stoops became the school’s youngest coach at hiring (41) since Larry Smith (who was 40 when he was hired in 1980).
Some of the highlights:
2004 — Stoops guided his team to an improved 3–8 record (Arizona was 2-10 in Mackovic’s last season), including a victory over No. 20 ASU in the Territorial Cup.
2005 — The Wildcats defeated No. 7 UCLA at home, 52–14.
2006 — Stoops led the Wildcats to an improved 6–6 record, the first non-losing season for the school since 1998 when the Wildcats went 12–1 under Dick Tomey. The team also defeated No. 8 California at home, 24–20.
2007 — Arizona defeated No. 2 Oregon, 34–24, in Tucson. It was Stoops’ fourth win over a ranked team in four years, all in the month of November.
2008 — The Wildcats earned their first bowl berth under Stoops, defeating BYU 31-21 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
2009 — Arizona compiled its second straight eight-win season and earned another bowl berth. Arizona played Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, but lost 33–0.
2010 — The Wildcats defeated No. 9 Iowa 34–27 in Tucson. Arizona was routed by Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.
2011 — After a 1–5 start, he was fired by then Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne.
Stoops was 41-50 at Arizona. Although he was on the hot seat for a few years, especially in 2006 and 2007 before breaking through with the bowl win in 2008, Stoops did bring some top players to Tucson, including the school’s best quarterback in history — Nick Foles and the 2007 Jim Thorpe Award winner Antoine Cason.
A look back at best No. 23
— The best Wildcat to wear No. 23 was legendary running back Kenny Cardella, who starred with the Wildcats from 1951 to 1953. He was a two-time All-Border Conference standout who was Arizona’s career rushing leader (2,060 yards) when he was done. He was third in the nation in rushing in 1953 (915 yards on 148 carries, 6.2 yards average) despite missing two of 10 games due to injury, earning first team All-Border Conference honors and All-American honorable mention.
Wearing No. 23 now
Sophomore running back Gary Brightwell, who played in all 13 games as a true freshman last season, mostly on special teams, returns looking for more opportunities. He comes from the same town — Chester, Pa. — as former Arizona Wildcats hoops standouts Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Herman Harris. Last season, he was on the defensive side of the ball as a defensive back.
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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.