Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff: 34 days

We have reached 34 days until when the Arizona Wildcats kick off their 2018 campaign 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. All of the reader polls can be accessed here (you still have time to vote):


Other best-season challengers

The 1993 and 1998 teams are the only in school history to finish in the top 10 of the final AP Top 25 poll. The 1993 team (10-2) was ranked No. 10 after its 29-0 win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. The 1998 team (12-1) finished No. 4 after its 23-20 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

The others that finished in the top 25 (in ascending order) were:

No. 25 team in 1989 finished 8-4 with a 17-10 win over North Carolina State in the Copper Bowl.

Highlights: OL Glenn Parker was a Football News second-team All-American and OLB Kevin Singleton was a Sporting News second-team All-American. … Parker and Singleton were also All-Pac-10 picks along with DT Anthony Smith. … RB David Eldridge, CB Darryll Lewis and PK Doug Pfaff were second-team All-Pac-10. … Singleton, Parker, RB Michael Bates and OL John Fina became Arizona Sports Hall of Famers. … DB Scott Geyer returned an interception 85 yards in the win over North Carolina State in the Copper Bowl, which was played at Arizona Stadium. … Arizona went as high as No. 15 heading into the Nov. 4 game at California 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Pac-10 — including wins over No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 11 Washington, No. 22 UCLA and No. 15 Washington State. The Wildcats lost to Cal 29-28 in Berkeley, Calif., knocking them out of the Rose Bowl race in Tomey’s third season.

No. 20 team in 1994 (projected preseason No. 1 by Sports Illustrated) finished 8-4 with a 16-13 loss to Utah in the Freedom Bowl.

Highlights: Arizona featured three consensus All-Americans — DE Tedy Bruschi, FS Tony Bouie and PK Steve McLaughlin. All became Arizona Sports Hall of Famers. Bruschi is in the College Football Hall of Fame. … McLaughlin earned the Lou Groza Award for the top placekicker in college football. … All-Pac-10 selections in addition to Bruschi and McLaughlin (Bouie was an honorable mention) were LB Sean Harris, SS Brandon Sanders, RB Ontiwaun Carter and OL Warner Smith. The lone second-team chose was OL Hicham El-Mashtoub. … Reached No. 6 in the nation after starting 4-0. Ranked No. 11 at 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the Pac-10 before losing 10-9 at Oregon on Oct. 29. A 45-28 loss at USC two weeks later effectively knocked the Wildcats out of the Rose Bowl race.

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No. 19 team in 2014 finished 10-4 with a Pac-12 South title. It lost 38-30 to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Highlights: Rich Rodriguez was selected the Pac-12 Coach of the Year. … LB Scooby Wright III was a unanimous All-American. He took home three national player of the year trophies that season — Chuck Bednarik Award, Lombardi Award and Bronko Nagurski Award. … Wright was the lone Arizona player selected All-Pac-12. C Steven Gurrola and P Drew Riggleman were second-team picks. … Arizona was unranked until after it started 5-0 with a 31-24 win at No. 2 Oregon. The Wildcats went from unranked to No. 10 after the upset over the Ducks. After losing two of three games, the Wildcats won four straight to become ranked No. 8 with a 10-2 record heading into the Pac-12 title game against Oregon. The Ducks won the rematch in a rout 51-13. Arizona then was humbled by Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

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No. 18 team in 1975 finished 9-2 and in second place in the WAC.

Highlights: WR Theopolis “T” Bell was an NEA first-team All-American and DT Mike Dawson was a second-team AP All-American. … Coach Jim Young became a College Football Hall of Famer. … Bell and Dawson were first-team All-WAC selections along with QB Bruce Hill, OL Brian Murray, LB Obra Erby and DB Dennis Anderson. … Young, Dawson, Bell, Hill and LB Jon Abbott are all Arizona Sports Hall of Famers. … Ranked as high as No. 11, the Wildcats were No. 12 facing No. 8 ASU for the WAC title on Nov. 29. The Wildcats lost 24-21 in the famed game at Tempe involving “The Catch” — did ASU’s John Jefferson really catch the ball on a diving attempt in the back of the end zone?

Did John Jefferson haul this pass in without the ball touching the ground first? (ASU photo)

No. 17 team in 1961 finished 8-1-1 as an independent.

Highlights: QB Eddie Wilson was an AP third-team All-American. All three members of the backfield — Wilson and running backs Bobby Thompson and Joe Hernandez — were selected in the NFL draft. All are in the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame along with DB Warren Livingston. … Arizona, under coach Jim LaRue, was in its first season as an Independent after leaving the Border Conference. Without a conference affiliation, the Wildcats did not qualify for a bowl despite the tremendous season. Their tie was at Nebraska in the second week of the season and their lone loss was a 27-23 setback at West Texas A&M. … The Wildcats concluded the season with a 22-13 win at ASU, which was coached by Frank Kush. That game included “The Run in ’61” in which Thompson broke at least four tackles en route to a 67-yard TD run in the fourth quarter that gave Arizona a 16-13 lead.

Arizona’s Eddie Wilson (12), Bobby Thompson (24) and Bobby Garis (50) hold the game ball after the 22-13 win over ASU in 1961 (Tucson Daily Citizen photo)

No. 11 team in 1986 finished 9-3 with its first bowl victory in program history, a 30-21 win over North Carolina in the Aloha Bowl.

Highlights: Arizona had three players who were second-team All-Americans — LB Byron Evans (AP and Football News), C Joe Tofflemire (Football News) and S Chuck Cecil (Sporting News). … Cecil is a College Football Hall of Famer. … Evans was the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. … Joining Evans, Cecil and Tofflemire on the All-Pac-10 team was RB David Adams. … Head coach Larry Smith, Evans, Cecil and LB Chris Singleton are Arizona Sports Hall of Famers. … DT Stan Mataele, PK Gary Coston, P Ruben Rodriguez and LB Danny Lockett were second-team All-Pac-10 choices. … Arizona reached as high as No. 10 during a 4-0 start. They never fell lower than No. 17. Their three losses were by a touchdown or less to UCLA, USC and Stanford. … The 1986 win over No. 4 ASU, which was Rose Bowl bound, stands as one of the best games in Arizona history. That game included the legendary 106-yard interception return for a touchdown by Cecil in the Wildcats’ 34-17 win at Arizona Stadium.

A look back at No. 34

— The best to wear No. 34 was Lamont Lovett, w running back who was on the 1993 team who was a solid player and is now the commentator for Arizona’s radio broadcasts. Lovett’s brother Lamar also played with the Wildcats as a standout receiver. Lamar’s son Isaiah Lovett is a wide receiver with the Wildcats out of Marana Mountain View High School.

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Wearing No. 34 now

Third-year sophomore linebacker Jacob Colacion is wearing No. 34 now. He saw limited action in all 13 games last year, tallying six tackles and a pass deflection.

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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.

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