We have reached 20 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 includes 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 are ranking 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 only during the course of that athlete’s time at Arizona.
The ranking up to now:
Rich Rodriguez’s tenure
Rich Rodriguez was hired by former Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne as the 30th head coach of the football program on Nov. 21, 2011. Rodriguez brought an exciting read-option offensive brand of football but his defenses were mostly lacking in his six years as head coach, ending with his termination on Jan. 2 of this year.
In Rodriguez’s first season at Arizona, in 2012, the Wildcats finished the season 8–5 with a thrilling come-from-behind win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. The season, which included Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey breaking the school single-season records for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, was Rodriguez’s first winning debut season and first bowl appearance in a debut season. It also tied Jim Young for the most wins in an Arizona coach’s first season.
The Wildcats posted an 8–5 record in Rodriguez’s second season as head coach. The season saw the emergence of Carey as the school’s career rushing leader and was capped with a victory over Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.
In his third year, Rodriguez led the Wildcats to their first 5–0 start and top 10 ranking since 1998 after beating No. 2 Oregon 31–24. He then lost his first game to USC and subsequently lost to UCLA. After compiling an 0–2 mark against in-state arch-rival Arizona State his first two years, Rodriguez’s Wildcats defeated the Sun Devils, 42–35 in 2014 to win the Pac-12 South Division, the first divisional championship in program history. The Wildcats advanced to the Pac-12 Football Championship Game and were defeated by Oregon 51–13. The Wildcats then played in the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, the school’s third major-bowl appearance, where they faced Boise State. Arizona lost the game 38–30. The Wildcats finished the 2014 season with a record of 10–4, achieving only the second 10-win regular season in program history.
After going 7-2 in the Pac-12 in 2014, the program started to struggle against the conference. The Wildcats went 9-18 in the three years after. Rodriguez was 26-14 in his first three seasons and 17-21 in his last three. He could not reach eight wins in his last three seasons, most of which was due to defensive shortcomings.
Rodriguez’s time at Arizona included some memorable and historic individual performances from Carey, linebacker Scooby Wright III and quarterback Khalil Tate. It was also the time of the “Hill Mary” pass from Anu Solomon to Austin Hill that beat Cal in the last seconds, as part of that successful 2014 season.
Rodriguez was fired after a former administrative assistant filed a multi-million dollar claim accusing him of sexually harassing her and creating a hostile work environment for years. He was fired after a three-month internal investigation by the school. He was let go without cause. Rodriguez has admitted to having an extramarital affair, but denies all allegations of other sexual misconduct.
The best to wear No. 20 …
The best to wear No. 20 for the Arizona Wildcats is running back Michael Bates, a local star who played at Amphi High School. He only rushed for 220 yards in two seasons with Arizona but was most dangerous as a returner. He averaged 23.7 yards per kickoff return and returned one for a touchdown in 1990. He also returned two punts for an average of 48 yards that season. After only two years with Arizona, he left early to concentrate on the Olympics as a sprinter. He earned the bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics. He became an All-Pro kickoff returner in the NFL.
Wearing No. 20 now …
Freshman running back Darrius Smith of Houston wears No. 20. He is one of the first recruits to commit to Arizona from the Class of 2018, and he stuck with the Wildcats despite the coaching change from Rich Rodriguez to Sumlin. Smith, 5-9, 170, went from no stars to a three-star back by 247Sports after committing to Arizona.
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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.