We have reached the last 39 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 39th 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 debates — with reader polls included — we have covered so far:
Today, the debate shifts to the Pac-10 schedules of each team.
1993 Pac-10 schedule: Arizona finished as co-champions of the conference with UCLA and USC this season, all with 6-2 records. UCLA represented the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl, winning the tie-breaker with the Wildcats and Trojans by virtue of their wins over both. The Bruins beat Arizona 37-17 in Pasadena, Calif., with the Desert Swarm defense yielding its most points of the season. Arizona entered that game ranked No. 7 with a 7-0 overall record and 4-0 in the Pac-10. Only Washington State (No. 25) and UCLA (No. 15) were ranked at the time Arizona played them. Arizona’s two conference losses were to UCLA and Cal. The Golden Bears finished 9-4 with a convincing 37-3 win in the Alamo Bowl over Iowa. The only Pac-10 teams to qualify for postseason bowls were Arizona, UCLA, USC and Cal. The Wildcats beat the Trojans 38-7 at home in the fifth game of the season. Only Arizona (No. 10), UCLA (No. 18) and Cal (No. 25) were ranked by the AP Top 25 after the bowl season. Conference teams other than Arizona went 22-10 against non-conference opponents.
1998 Pac-10 schedule: Once again, UCLA stood in the way of Arizona winning the outright title and earning a spot in the ever-elusive Rose Bowl. The Bruins went 8-0 in the league and Arizona 7-1, the lone loss to the Bruins 52-28 on Oct. 10 at Arizona Stadium. Arizona took 28-24 lead with 6:15 left in the third quarter. UCLA scored 28 consecutive points in a devastating 6-minute, 10-second span to put itself in a position for the national title game. Arizona entered the game ranked No. 10 with a 5-0 record, 2-0 in the Pac-10. UCLA was ranked No. 3. Two other conference teams were ranked when Arizona played them — No. 20 Washington (Arizona won 31-28 in Seattle behind Ortege Jenkins’ “Leap by the Lake” and No 12 Oregon (the Wildcats trounced the Ducks 38-3 in Tucson). Five teams qualified for the postseason — Arizona, UCLA, USC, Oregon and Washington. The Wildcats and Trojans did not play each other that season. Only Arizona (No. 4) and UCLA (No. 8) were ranked at the end of the bowl season. Conference teams other than Arizona went 20-12 against non-conference opponents that season.
A look back at No. 39
— The best to wear No. 39 is former defensive lineman Pete Russell, who also excelled at tight end and fullback in 1988 and 1989 before becoming an Arizona assistant and NFL scout. Russell was an NFL scout for almost 20 years. He is listed in the Ourlads.com Scout Hall of Fame. Also worth mentioning is two-time second team All-Pac-12 punter Drew Riggleman (pictured in the graphic). His 46.1 yards per punt in 2014 ranks second in school history behind Danny Baugher’s 47.5 mark in 2005.
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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.