We are in Game Week — five days — until the tailgate season is upon us when the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 campaign under new coach Kevin Sumlin. The season begins when Arizona hosts BYU on Saturday at Arizona Stadium.
To get ready for the upcoming season, All Sports Tucson has offered 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:
The 12-1 season in 1998
No Arizona team had won more than 10 games previously in a season.
No Wildcat team finished higher in the AP Top 25, landing at No. 4 by season’s end, after beating Nebraska 23-20 in the Holiday Bowl.
Dick Tomey’s most successful team came basically a quarter away from going unbeaten — UCLA pulled away late in the third quarter and early in the fourth for the Wildcats’ only loss that season.
The season included “The Leap by the Leak,” the memorable head-over-heels touchdown finish by Ortege Jenkins on the late-game scramble at Washington. Trung Canidate rushed for a school-record 288 yards and three long touchdowns against ASU.
Other standouts included defensive end Joe Tafoya, linebacker Marcus Bell, quarterback Keith Smith (who seamlessly shared the duties with Jenkins), and receiver Dennis Northcutt, but none stood taller than unanimous All-American cornerback Chris McAlister.
“We come out with a 12-1 record, the best record in the school’s history,” McAlister told reporters after he made a game-saving interception late against Nebraska. “We beat Nebraska, a topnotch program. I couldn’t picture going out any other way.”
An emotional leader like nonwe other, running back Kelvin Eafon, hollered, “Let’s sing that song,” then danced away as he led the cheering Arizona students and fans in a rowdy rendition of the old “Bear Down Arizona” fight song on the turf at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego after the monumental win over the Cornhuskers.
The best to wear No. 4 …
The best to wear No. 4 in Arizona history? That honor goes to a cornerback who had one of the most memorable seasons in Arizona history in 1990 when he was selected the Jim Thorpe Award winner. Darryll Lewis’ season ranked No. 25 in our Top 25 ranking of Pac-10/12 developments since the Wildcats joined the conference 40 years ago.
Lewis, who was inducted into Arizona’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, finished his career with 14 interceptions, was a third-round NFL pick and is a regular NFL starter. He was the 1990 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Lewis’ interception return of 70 yards for a score helped Arizona beat UCLA in 1990. His goal-line stop that same season of scrambling Oregon quarterback Bill Musgrave at the goal line to preserve another victory is one of the most legendary plays in school history. He played at Arizona from 1987 to 1990, starting as a running back under Dick Tomey.
Wearing No. 4 now …
Two wear No. 4 now — sophomore quarterback Rhett Rodriguez and third-year sophomore cornerback Antonio Parks.
Rodriguez is the son of former Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez who starred at Catalina Foothills before staying with the Wildcats despite his father’s firing in January. He was able to play in two games last year and is determined to battle for the backup spot behind Khalil Tate. Parks,of New Orleans, played in all 13 games as a reserve in the secondary and on special teams coverage units last year. He recorded seven tackles and broke up a pass.
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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.