Football training camp is under way for the Arizona Wildcats and hopes are high in Tucson. Mike Stoops took over a program that was on its way to winning nine total games in three years. The rebuilt version has won eight games in each of the past two seasons and the offense returns almost entirely intact.
The team expects a huge year. But even a moderately-big year would be a big deal for Arizona. Post another winning season and Stoops will have achieved something that has only been accomplished once in school history.
Three straight bowl games.
In the grand scheme of things the Cats are newcomers to the bowl scene. By 1940 USC had seven bowl wins; Arizona has six in its entire history. ASU went to seven bowls in the ‘70s; the UA didn’t win its first bowl game until 1986. Even Oregon State after taking a few (several) decades to get warmed up has gone to eight bowls since the turn of the millennium.
For the Wildcats, playing an extra football game during the winter is still a significant accomplishment.
The record-setting years were 1992 through 1994. Arizona was at its bowling apex with seven postseason appearances in ten years under Dick Tomey. The ’92 team went 6-4-1 before losing to Baylor in the Hancock (Sun) Bowl. The ’93 squad trounced Dennis Erickson’s Miami team in the Fiesta Bowl to cap Arizona’s first 10-win season. In 1994 Sports Illustrated’s preseason #1 team lost to Utah in the Freedom Bowl to finish 8-4.
One great bowl performance (the best in UA history) and two duds. But three bowls are three bowls and the Cats haven’t been able to string together that many since.
Here is the bowl-thin history that Mike Stoops is trying to overcome:
The Once-a-Decade Era
1921 Christmas Classic
When you beat teams by scores of 75-0, 74-0, and 110-0 your odds of getting a bowl bid go way up.
The Border Conference champs turned down Sun Bowl bids after the ’35 and ’36 seasons.
1948 Salad Bowl
6-3 Drake vs. 6-4 Arizona on New Year’s Day. They had mediocre bowls even back when there were barely any bowls.
Art Luppino’s teams put up huge offensive numbers but never played in a bowl game. Their best record was 7-3 in ’54.
1968 Sun Bowl
The UA finally accepted a trip to El Paso but the Cats had to be tricky about it. 8-1 Arizona was preparing to play 7-2 Arizona State to finish the season. The UA told the Sun Bowl it had to invite the Wildcats before the ASU game and the Sun Bowl agreed. In what became known as the “Ultimatum Game” the Sun Devils went down to Tucson and got revenge with a 30-7 beating. Arizona kept is Sun Bowl bid…only to get blown out by Auburn.
1979 Fiesta Bowl
Arizona lost to Dan Marino and Pitt. The way these bowls were turning out for the Cats, maybe those teams from the ‘30s had the right idea.
The Larry Smith Era (1980-1986)
Smith led the UA to its first bowl non-loss (a Sun Bowl tie with Georgia in ’85) and its first bowl win (a victory over North Carolina in the ’86 Aloha Bowl), as well as consecutive bowl appearances for first time. He went on to coach in three Rose Bowls…for someone else.
The Dick Tomey Era (1987-2000)
Tomey had a 4-3 record in bowl games from 1989 through ’98. In addition to the three-pete he also produced the only back-to-back bowl wins in UA history: the ’97 Insight (Copper) Bowl over New Mexico and the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska (the happy one).
The Mike Stoops Era (2004-present)
Ended a decade-long drought with the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU. Followed it up with the UA’s worst bowl loss in 88 years. Can Stoops hit the three-bagger this fall?
Arizona Bowl Results
|1986||Aloha Bowl||North Carolina||W||30||21|
|1989||Copper Bowl||North Carolina St.||W||17||10|
|1992||Hancock (Sun) Bowl||Baylor||L||15||20|
|1997||Insight (Copper) Bowl||New Mexico||W||20||14|
|2008||Las Vegas Bowl||BYU||W||31||21|
Overall Bowl Record: 6-8-1