We have reached the last 40 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 when it was 50 days to kickoff. Here are the positions — with reader polls included — we have covered so far:
Today, the debate shifts to the regular season non-conference schedules of each team.
1993 non-conference schedule:[table “” not found /]
It turned out to be a weak non-conference slate. UTEP, Pacific and Illinois had a combined record of 9-25, a winning percentage of only 36 percent. Arizona won the three games by a combined total of only 23 points, scoring an average of only 18.7 points a game. The Illini was the best of the group, going 5-3 in the Big Ten. They were 1-4 against ranked teams, however, including Arizona, which was ranked No. 15 when the teams met in the second game of the season.
1998 non-conference schedule:[table “” not found /]
The four opponents had a combined record of 15-31, a winning percentage of 48.4 percent. San Diego State was the only winning non-conference team either the 1993 or 1998 team faced during the regular season. The Aztecs went 0-4 outside the WAC including the loss to Arizona, ranked No. 16 when the teams played in the third week of the season. San Diego State lost to No. 20 Wisconsin 26-14 at home and No. 22 USC 35-6 in Los Angeles before losing to the Wildcats. The Aztecs lost 20-13 to North Carolina in the Las Vegas Bowl. Arizona’s winning margin against the four inferior non-conference teams was 25.5 points with Arizona averaging 35.5 points.
A look back at No. 40
— The best to wear No. 40 is former linebacker Marcus Bell, a standout on the 1998 team who Tomey called the best inside linebacker he ever coached. He was an All-Pac-10 selection in 1998 leading the conference in tackles per game with 10.3. He also led the league with 124 total tackles his senior year in 1999. His 139 tackles in 1998 led the nation. In one game that season against Washington he had 21 tackles He finished with 405 career tackles, No. 5 on Arizona’s all-time chart. He was part of an Arizona defense in 1998 that recorded a school-record 46 sacks in 1998. Bell presently is one of eight former Arizona players who are head coaches. He’s in his eighth year coaching Eager Round Valley High School.
Wearing No. 40 now
Redshirt sophomore walk-on receiver Thomas Reid III is wearing No. 40 these days. All the way from Chesapeake, Va., Reid has yet to catch a pass. He is an accomplished student majoring in psychology.
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
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.