Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff: 83 days

We now stand at 83 days until the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 season under new coach Kevin Sumlin.

When Arizona hosts BYU on Sept. 1, it will mark the 40th anniversary since the Wildcats joined 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 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.

To catch up on the countdown click on this: Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff.

A look back

— With it being the 83rd day until kickoff, the best player to wear No. 83 for Arizona, in the modern era of the Pac-10 and Pac-12? That would be tight end Mark Keel, who played with the Wildcats in 1981 and 1982 after transferring from Olympic College in Bremerton, Wash. One of the top junior college transfers in Arizona history, Keel became the best tight end to play at Arizona before Rob Gronkowski played for the Wildcats.

Keel, the head coach at Central Kitsap (Wash.) High School, was recently inducted into the Olympic College Athletics Hall of Fame.

Keel caught 59 passes, six for touchdowns, in his two-year career at Arizona. His 857 receiving yards for a tight end were the most in school history until Gronkowski had 1,197 yards on 95 catches in 2007 and 2008.

Mark Keel has coached the last 24 years at Central Kitsap (Wash.) High School as an assistant coach and head coach (Keel photo)

Keel played in a run-oriented ball-control offense under Larry Smith while Gronkowski played under a pass-happy “Air Raid” offense instituted by Mike Stoops.

Keel was drafted by New England in the ninth round in 1983, but signed with the Arizona Wranglers of the United States Football League. Keel spent three years in the USFL, injuring a knee his final season, and then moved to the NFL, where he spent three years on the Patriots’ (physically unable to perform) list. He signed with the Seattle Seahawks during the 1987 strike season. Keel played two more years in the NFL with Kansas City and went to Green Bay for two training camps before moving back to the Northwest.

Keel, 56, has coached at Central Kitsap for the last 24 years as an assistant and the head coach.

Going back further in time, in the WAC era, the best No. 83 was defensive end Bob Crum (who played from 1970 to 1972). He was an All-WAC selection who was third-round choice in the NFL draft.

A look ahead

In an interview last week with WildcatAuthority.com, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate said he expects under new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone more of an NFL-type offense with drop-back passing and reading coverages and less read-option “but just enough to win games.”

“We’re doing a great job really buying into Coach Sumlin’s system and listening to my coach, Coach Mazzone,” Tate said.

When asked of his personal goal, Tate said, “Go undefeated … It can (happen). It’s possible, very possible.”

They tweeted it

Where in the world is Kevin Sumlin? Yesterday, he was in Flagstaff with other coaches, including Sean Miller, as part of Arizona’s traveling road tour throughout the state. Sumlin took the opportunity to take in a football camp while there.

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