We have reached 44 days until when the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 season 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 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.
1993 vs. 1998
The season marks some substantial anniversaries. It is 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.
A debate among Arizona followers has developed in recent years over which team was better — the 1993 team that brought the program the famed Desert Swarm defense (one of the top units in the history of college football) or the 1998 team that finished No. 4 in the nation and came basically a half away against UCLA from going unbeaten.
My colleague Anthony Gimino wrote about this debate for the Tucson Citizen in 2013.
Both teams were coached by Dick Tomey, the winningest coach in Arizona history (95-64-4 from 1987 to 2000).
We started the debate last Friday when it was 50 days to kickoff. Here are the positions — with reader polls included — we have covered so far:
Today, the position shifts to the linebackers.
1993 linebackers: Comprising the back half of front seven of the Desert Swarm defense was linebackers Shawn Jarrett, Sean Harris and Brant Boyer. Jarrett, an outside linebacker, was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection in 1993. Harris, a Tucson High product, was a two-time first team All-Pac-10 selection in 1992 and 1993. Harris was a third-round selection of the Chicago Bears in 1995. He played seven years in the NFL. Boyer was a 10-year NFL veteran who was a second team All-Pac-10 selection in 1993. He led the Wildcats with 90 tackles that season.
1998 linebackers: Solid group that was at the heart of this defense. DaShon Polk, Marcus Bell and Scooter Sprotte stack up well against their 1993 counterparts. Polk was a second team All-Pac-10 selection in 1998 and was drafted in the seventh round by Buffalo. He played seven years in the NFL. Bell was a first team All-Pac-10 selection in 1998. He was selected in the fourth round by Seattle and lasted four seasons in the NFL. He is one of only six Arizona players to tally at least 400 career tackles, finishing with 405. He led the Wildcats with a whopping 139 tackles in 1998, including 14 for loss. Sprotte, not to be confused with his older brother Jimmy Sprotte, who also starred for the Wildcats from 1994 to 1997, topped Arizona with four caused fumbles in 1998.
A look back at No. 44
— The best to wear No. 44 is one of the greatest running backs in school history, Hubert Oliver, who earned second team All-Pac-10 honors in 1978 and 1979. His career total of 3,096 rushing yards was the second best in Arizona history at that time. He accounted for nearly a third of that total during the 1979 season, which included a performance of 196 yards on 25 carries against Colorado State. He was named Pac-10 Player of the Week after a 27-24 Wildcat victory over arch-rival Arizona State in 1979. Oliver was team captain during the 1980 season and played in the 1981 East-West All-Star game. He played in the NFL for five seasons, four with the Philadelphia Eagles. Oliver, who is now 60, lives in his hometown of Elyria, Ohio.
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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.