We are down to the eve of the Arizona Wildcats’ 2018 season under new coach Kevin Sumlin. The season begins when Arizona hosts BYU tomorrow at Arizona Stadium.
To get ready for the season, All Sports Tucson has offered another countdown, which included memories from former Wildcats, history notes and a look ahead to the season. It was 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 have ranked 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 has included player highlights, team accomplishments, coaching moves and other off-field developments. If a player is involved, the ranking included happenings during their time at Arizona.
The ranking up to now:
No Rose Bowl Appearance
Forty years later after joining the Pac-10 and still no outright championship for Arizona. No roses.
The Wildcats came closest during the Dick Tomey era in 1993, 1994 and 1998 but could not win that one pivotal game to finally stake a claim for Pasadena.
In 1993, Arizona was ranked No. 13 and was 4-1 in the Pac-10 when the Wildcats lost at Cal 24-20 after blowing a 20-0 lead. The Wildcats tied UCLA and USC with a 6-2 league record that season and the Bruins earned the right to play in the Rose Bowl because they beat Arizona and USC.
In 1994, Arizona went to Oregon ranked No. 10 with a 4-0 conference record and fell to the Ducks 10-9. Arizona finished 6-2 in the league, one game back of Oregon, which advanced to the Rose Bowl with a 7-1 record.
In 1998, Arizona was 2-0 in the Pac-10 and ranked No. 10 nationally, but No. 3 UCLA was too much late in the game, pulling away to a 52-28 win at Arizona Stadium. It was the Wildcats’ lone loss of the season. The Bruins kept on winning as well and earned the right to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.
Aside from recent additions Colorado and Utah (in 2011), Arizona is the only member from the Pac-10 days which has not played in the Rose Bowl.
Arizona also tied for second in the league in 2009 with a 6-3 record, two games back of Oregon (8-1). The Wildcats lost in double-overtime 44-41 against Oregon at Arizona Stadium that season and their two other losses were by eight points or less at Cal (24-16) and at Washington (36-33).
Arizona won the Pac-12 South with a 10-win regular season in 2014, but the Wildcats were routed by Oregon 51-13 in the league title game.
You must go back to 1941 for the Wildcats’ last outright conference title when they were part of the Border Conference, some 77 years now. They tied for the WAC title in 1973 with ASU, both with 6-1 records, but lost the head-to-head tie-breaker with the Sun Devils 55-19.
Frustration and Arizona football are synonymous.
Rose Bowl appearances
The best to wear No. 1 …
The honor of the best to wear No. 1 goes to Bruce Hill, who quarterbacked the Wildcats under coach Jim Young from 1973 to 1976, was a first-team All-WAC selection in 1975. Arizona went 26-7 in his three seasons as the starting quarterback. The Wildcats finished in the national top 10 in total offense in three consecutive seasons.
Hill was the “1” in Arizona’s powerful 1-2-3 offense, with split backs Willie Hamilton (jersey No. 2) and Jim Upchurch (No. 3) behind him. With Hamilton and Upchurch gone after the 1974 season, Hill carried on, connecting often with star receiver Theopolis “T” Bell as the Wildcats rolled to 424.2 yards per game in 1975, the fifth-best mark in the country.
Hill, undoubtedly the best UA quarterback of the school’s WAC era (1962-77), had a mix of arm strength, quickness and athleticism that would play well in today’s college football. A running threat in the veer or from the I-formation, he left UA as the school’s career leader in total offense with 6,054 yards — which was about 2,700 more yards than anybody in school history at that point. Hill also was the career leader in passing yards (5,090) upon his departure.
As a senior, in an era in which even top quarterbacks often had higher interception totals than touchdown passes, Hill threw for 18 scores and was intercepted only three times. Hill, the team captain in 1975 for Young and offensive coordinator John Mackovic, passed for a then-school-record 406 yards against New Mexico in 1975, including an 80-yard strike to Bell. His 451 yards of total offense in the game stood as a UA record for 21 years, until quarterback Keith Smith needed four overtimes to post 502 yards.
Hill’s 45 career touchdown passes rank fourth in school history.
Wearing No. 1 now …
The number is shared by two players — local athlete star Drew Dixon, a redshirt freshman from Sabino High School and sophomore linebacker Tony Fields II.
Dixon totaled 1,177 passing yards and 11 touchdowns as a quarterback during his senior season with the Sabercats in 2016. He also rushed for 901 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Fields started all 13 games at the “WILL” linebacker position and was named a Freshman All-American by ESPN.com and 247 Sports. He led the team with 104 total tackles, the most for a UA freshman in 20 seasons. He finished as the second-leading freshman tackler in the FBS, totaling seven double-digit tackle performances, including in five of the final seven contests. He ranked second on team with 5.0 sacks and third with 7.5 tackles for loss. He collected a game-high and personal season-high 13 tackles, including a sack, against Purdue in Foster Farms Bowl.
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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.