Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff: 17 days

We have reached only 17 days until 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 includes 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.

The season marks some substantial anniversaries. It is the 40th anniversary since the Wildcats left the WAC to join 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 catch up on the countdown — which included in-depth analysis and reader polls on The Great Debate of which team was better — 1993 or 1998 — click on this: Arizona Wildcats 2018 countdown to kickoff.

Top 25 developments in Pac-10/12 era

Over the last part of the countdown we are ranking the top 25 developments of Arizona’s Pac-10/12 existence that started in 1978 when it arrived with ASU from the WAC. The ranking will include player highlights, team accomplishments, coaching moves and other off-field developments. If a player is involved, the ranking includes happenings only during the course of that athlete’s time at Arizona.

The ranking up to now:

No. 25: Darryll Lewis’ 1990 season

No. 24: Chris McAlister’s career

No. 23: Mike Stoops’ tenure

No. 22: Rob Waldrop’s career

No. 21: Scooby Wright III’s 2014 season

No. 20: Rich Rodriguez’s tenure

No. 19: Win over No. 1 Washington in 1992

No. 18: John Mackovic coaching fiasco

No. 17

Arizona Stadium upgrades

Some of the more notable upgrades to Arizona Stadium and its surroundings over the last 40 years, which have enhanced the Wildcats’ chances to compete in the Pac-12:

— In 1989, a $6.3 million structure housing the media, skyboxes and loge seating was added to accommodate increased interest in the football program. The four-story skybox included a first level of 319 loge seats, second level of 13 suites, a third level with a President’s Box and 10 suites and the media center on the fourth level. The media center features 103 seats for the working press, three radio booths, three network television booths, coaching and administrative booths, a statistical operations booth and other operations and VIP areas. Each of the scholarship suites includes 12 theatre-type seats with the opportunity to purchase six additional tickets to each individual suite. They are equipped with closed-circuit television and an audio choice of crowd, public address or radio broadcast feeds.

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— New concession and rest room facilities have been added at ground level on the northwest and northeast corners of the stadium, and a renovated and enlarged Stadium Club was completed in 1990. A new sound system was added in twice in the past decade, and the stadium boasts a brand new scoreboard project which was installed in 1999 and since updated. In January 2011, it was announced that a new 5,356-square-foot video board would be installed above the south stands in time for the 2011 season. It is the seventh-largest video screen in college football (sixth-largest if non-college-exclusive stadiums are excluded, as Miami shares Sun Life Stadium with the Miami Dolphins).

— The most recent addition to Arizona Stadium, the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, opened to the public in August 2013. Supported by private funds including significant lead gifts from David and Edith Lowell and Jeff and Sharon Stevens, the $72.3 million project provides the Wildcats with one of the premiere football facilities in the nation. In addition to its football functions, the structure has transformed the north end of Arizona Stadium, providing club seating, restrooms, concessions and the Sands Club.

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— In addition to the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, the playing surface was changed from natural Bermuda grass to FieldTurf, an infilled synthetic turf. The new surface allows the team to practice on the field during the week when previously it was off limits while the grass recovered between games. Because of the extreme sun and temperatures in Tucson, the athletic department chose Revolution CoolPlay FieldTurf, designed to keep the surface temperatures cooler than with other artificial turf.

— Construction is underway for an indoor sports facility where the Wildcats can practice starting next season. The Indoor Sports Center, located where the baseball stadium was situated, will be a multipurpose facility for each of Arizona’s programs to utilize, while also serving as a gameday hospitality area. With a project budget of $18 million, the center is expected to contain a 90-yard field and will have a ceiling height of 65 feet. It should be completed by the end of this year.

— The Arizona Board of Regents also recently approved a renovation project for Arizona Stadium that is expected to consist of two phases with a projected cost of $25 million. The first phase focused on the east side ground level and student section for this season. The second phase will provide renovations to the club areas in the stadium and additional concessions and restroom upgrades. Construction is expected to commence in January and be completed in time for the 2019 football season.

The best to wear No. 17 …

The best to wear No. 17 for the Arizona Wildcats is tough-as-nails receiver Richard Dice, who gutted it out for Arizona from 1993 to 1996 through some difficult injuries. Dice had great leaping ability and is best remembered for not only playing, but playing well, with a torn ACL in a 1995 victory at ASU.

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Wearing No. 17 now …

Two players share No. 17 these days — walk-on redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Tovar and All-Pac-12 hopeful, senior Jace Whittaker, at cornerback.

Tovar is a 6-2, 180-pound, player who graduated Magna Cum Laude from Cathedral High School in South El Monte, Calif. He threw for 2,224 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior and finished with 9,600 career yards and 120 passing touchdowns. He led his team to an 11-1 record as a senior.

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Whittaker started all 13 games at the “field” cornerback position and led the team for second straight season with 13 pass breakups, while intercepting three passes, including one for a touchdown. He registered 46 tackles, including 39 solo stops, with 2.0 for loss. One of his best games was against Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl last December. He recorded a season-high 12 tackles and broke up three passes. He intercepted two passes, returning one 42 yards for a touchdown, while breaking up another pass and recording two tackles in the victory over UCLA last year.

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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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