The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is only five days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.
Season openers are important but they do not tell the entire story.
Arizona has won roughly three out of every four season openers (73.1 percent), but it has won 57.2 percent of its overall games in the program’s history. Despite the nearly 16 percent drop, winning that first game is significant to build confidence and a belief that fall-camp preparation was meaningful.
The Wildcats have lost nine season openers since they joined the Pac-10 in 1978. They advanced to only one bowl game in those years, the 1997 Insight.com Bowl against New Mexico. They finished 7-5 that season.
Arizona will play its 109th season opener Friday when it hosts NAU. The Wildcats are 78-25-5 all-time in the first game of the season, winning five consecutive and 11 of the last 13. Arizona is 14-0 since its last season-opening defeat in Arizona Stadium, which was a 15-14 decision against Iowa on Sept. 12, 1987.
The UA has allowed 35 points over the last five season openers (only a touchdown a game). The Cats have outscored those opponents 195-35 over the five games. NAU was the victim in one of those games in a 41-10 victory for the UA in 2011.
That turned out to be the last victory in the Mike Stoops era. The UA lost five consecutively afterward and Stoops was fired.
So, again, season openers are really what you make of them. Teams can’t put too much into them. They must not overlook them as well. A couple of the more forgettable openers for Arizona while playing what were perceived to be lesser opponents: The 17-15 loss to Colorado State in 1981 and the 27-22 defeat at the hands of Cal State-Fullerton in 1984.
Fullerton dropped its football program eight years later.
Third-ranked Penn State throttled No. 4 Arizona 41-7 in the 1999 season opener at State College, Pa. The Wildcats also lost at No. 2 Ohio State 38-14 in 1991. Arizona did not recover after each setback, finishing 6-6 in 1999 and 4-7 in 1991.
Chances are Friday’s game against the Lumberjacks will not crack the top 50, unless Ka’Deem Carey rushes for more than 400 yards.
Here are some season-opener facts for Arizona:
Did you know?:
— Instead of finishing the season against arch-rival ASU, the Wildcats opened the 1925 season against the Sun Devils at home, winning 13-3. The UA and ASU also opened the 1935 and 1937 seasons in Tucson with the UA winning both (35-0 in 1935 and 20-6 in 1937). Any chance the Territorial Cup can be moved to the start of the season?
— The Wildcats played their first night game at the Rose Bowl in the 1929 season, beating Occidental 16-7. The UA finished 7-1 that season under J.F. “Pop” McKale
— The Wildcats played their first night game at Arizona Stadium in the 1931 opener against San Diego State. The Wildcats, not ready for prime time in Tucson, lost 8-0.
— Arizona recovered from a 38-7 setback at Notre Dame in the 1941 opener to finish with a 7-3 record. That was the first game of the Frank Leahy era at Notre Dame. He went on to win four national titles there.
— Bobby Thompson set the school record (held to this day) averaging 44.3 yards per reception in Arizona’s 28-6 win over Colorado State in the 1961 opener. He caught three passes for 144 yards.
— Luppino’s school-record five touchdowns in the 58-0 win over New Mexico State in 1954 at Arizona Stadium was matched by Carey last season against Colorado. One record to keep an eye on this year: Carey is 15 shy of Luppino’s school-record 44 career rushing touchdowns.
— The UA had two memorable kickoff returns for a touchdown: Chris McAlister’s 100-yard return at Hawaii in the 1998 opener and Vance Johnson’s 93-yard return against Oregon State at Arizona Stadium in 1982. Johnson’s return was on the very first play of the game. Arizona finished 12-1 in 1998 and the Wildcats had one of their most memorable seasons in 1982, beating No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 6 ASU and tying No. 8 UCLA.
Keep on eye on Arizona’s kickoff returns Friday against NAU. The issue with that is the UA might not have many. At least Rich Rodriguez hopes that is the case.
The best Arizona player to wear No. 5, according to TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino, is cornerback Antoine Cason (2004-07). HE is the UA’s second Jim Thorpe Award winner (Darryll Lewis is the other), taking home the trophy in 2007. As a senior, he returned two interceptions and two punts for scores. Cason finished with 15 career INTs.
Last year, this site and TucsonCitizen.com ran a Top 50 Games in the history of Arizona football series. I will relive that list here with less than 50 days to kickoff and add one game to it: Arizona’s improbable 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl last December, which landed as No. 38 on the list. Note, after clicking on the link, you will notice last year’s ranking. The list on this page is the current ranking.
No. 5: Zendejas returns after hastily leaving UA at halftime, makes 48-yard FG to beat Notre Dame
No. 6: 1982 upset win keeps Sun Devils from Rose Bowl, starts “The Streak”
No. 7: “Leap by the Lake” most amazing individual play in UA history gives Cats win over Huskies
No. 8: UA loses heartbreaker to ASU wondering: “The Catch” really a catch?
No. 9: Arizona (12-1) achieves best record, highest ranking to end season with 1998 win over Nebraska
No. 10: UA wins 1926 game after McKale delivers Salmon’s “Bear Down” line
No. 11: The Desert Swarm is born in 1992 near-upset of top-ranked Miami at the Orange Bowl
No. 12: Zendejas’ 57-yard FG ties UA record, keeps ASU out of Rose Bowl again
No. 13: Arizona blows 20-point lead and shot at the Rose Bowl with 1993 collapse at California
No. 14: UA upsets No. 2 UCLA in 1980 when Bruins appeared ready to be No. 1
No. 15: L.A. Times reporter: Arizona shows “fight of wildcats” in 1914 game vs. Occidental
No. 16: UA leads UCLA late in third quarter but loses big in 12-1 season
No. 17: Unranked Arizona upsets Ohio State, Woody Hayes in Buckeyes’ 1967 opener in Columbus
No. 18: Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968
No. 19: Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie
No. 20: Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter
No. 21: Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure
No. 22: Arizona wins its first bowl behind “Heat-seeking Missile” Chuck Cecil
No. 23: Collapse vs. Utah after leading 27-0 in fourth quarter changed the face of UA football
No. 24: UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach
No. 25: Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma
No. 26: UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch
No. 27: Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU
No. 28: UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats
No. 29: Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era
No. 30: Arizona’s win on last-second FG over ASU ends Frank Kush’s dominance in the series
No. 31: Arizona reaches its zenith under Mike Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl
No. 32: Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run
No. 33: Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts
No. 34: ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight
No. 35: Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game
No. 36: Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU
No. 37: USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson
No. 38: Arizona Wildcats’ comeback against Nevada No. 38 in Top 50 games list
No. 39: Arizona shows signs of life under Mike Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA
No. 40: Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns
No. 41: Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time
No. 42: Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU
No. 43: Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA
No. 44: Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics
No. 45: Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally
No. 46: Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason
No. 47: “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish
No. 48: Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech
No. 49: Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State
No. 50: Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal
Dropped out: Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.