We have reached Game Week — six days — until the tailgate season is upon us 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 has offered 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:
Probation from 1983 to 1985
This stretch marked the darkest days of Arizona’s Pac-10/12 existence, just ahead of the disaster that happened during John Mackovic’s brief tenure from 2001 to 2003. Arizona was placed on NCAA probation prior to the 1983 season because of alleged cash payments to student-athletes under previous coach Tony Mason. The Wildcats were banned from bowl games for two seasons (1983 and 1984) and were not allowed to play on live television for two seasons (1984 and 1985).
Despite the cloud over the program, which really began after Mason left and Larry Smith took over in 1980, the Wildcats amazingly emerged with a 39-25-3 record from 1980 to 1985 and experienced some of the best wins in school history — beating No. 2 UCLA in Tucson in 1980, upsetting No. 1 USC in Los Angeles in 1981, topping Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., in 1982 and starting “The Streak” in 1982 against highly-successful ASU teams.
Arizona climbed to as high as No. 3 in the AP Top 25 poll — its highest ranking in school history — one month into the 1983 season. Imagine if Arizona was not on probation and was able to draw even better talent than what Smith was able to attract?
“We were motivated and driven to play the best we could play because we weren’t going to any bowl,” star linebacker Ricky Hunley told me recently. “(The lack of decline during the probation) was a combination of the coaching and the commitment on behalf of the players to be better than average because we didn’t have great players. Our players developed over time.
“They were doing something right down here because none of these guys were five stars or anything like that. We were just hard-working guys who appreciated good work ethic and played our ass off in between the whistles.”
The best to wear No. 6 …
The best to wear No. 6 in Arizona history? That honor goes to one of the most legendary players in Arizona history — Chuck Cecil — whose career we ranked as the No. 10 development since Arizona joined the Pac-10/12 in 1978. He is in his second year as a coach in the program as the senior defensive analyst.
A two-time First Team Academic All-America selection (1986-87), Cecil played for Arizona from 1984 to 1987, first under the late Larry Smith and then under former head coach Dick Tomey for his final year. He began as a recruited walk-on from Helix High School in San Diego, Calif., and finished his UA career as one of the Pac-10’s noted and fearless safeties before later being inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
A consensus All-American in 1987, Cecil was the Aloha Bowl MVP and a two-time first-team all-conference selection, plus earned second-team honors as a sophomore. He was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1987. Off the field Cecil was a three-time Pac-10 All-Academic selection and culminated his education as a recipient of the NCAA VI Award, one of the nation’s top scholar-athlete citations. He was named Arizona’s male winner of the Pac-10 Conference Medal.
Cecil finished his UA career with the then No. 1 mark in passes defended, 38, which currently is second to Michael Jolivette’s 44 from 2000 to 2003. He led the Wildcats with 80 solo tackles his senior year and also posted the school record that season with four interceptions at Stanford.
Today, Cecil still ranks No. 7 on Arizona’s all-time tackles chart with a total of 392. Additionally, he holds the Arizona career record with 21 interceptions and among those returned one 100 yards for a touchdown against Arizona State in 1986, the best play in Arizona history.
After his storied collegiate career, Cecil was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the fourth round of the 1988 NFL Draft. He played in Green Bay through the 1992 season when he was voted to the 1993 NFL Pro Bowl, before moving on to the Phoenix Cardinals in 1993 and later the Houston Oilers for the 1995 season. The safety finished a seven-year professional career with 461 tackles, 16 interceptions and one touchdown.
He coached in the NFL from 2001 to 2016 before joining the Arizona staff.
Wearing No. 6 now …
Two experienced senior standouts wear No. 6 now — receiver Shun Brown and safety Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles.
Brown played in all 13 games with 12 starts last year and was named Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention. He recorded at least one reception in 12 of 13 games and had multiple catches in eight games. He was tied for third on the team with eight total touchdowns, including six receiving and two on punt returns. His average of 38.1 yards per touchdown is phenomenal, including three of at least 56 yards and none shorter than 13 yards. He led team with 43 receptions for 573 yards and six scores.
Flannigan-Fowles, a local star from Mountain View High School, has played in all possible 38 games in his career with 26 starts. He started all 13 games last season, with a dozen at the “bandit” safety position and another at free safety. He tied for third on the team with 81 total tackles, 57 of which were solo stops. He intercepted a career-best three passes, while breaking up three passes and recovering two fumbles.
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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.