1980 Arizona Wildcats football
ConferencePacific-10 Conference
1980 record5–6 (3–4 Pac-10)
Head coach
CaptainHubie Oliver
Home stadiumArizona Stadium
← 1979
1981 →
1980 Pacific-10 Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team W   L   T W   L   T
No. 16 Washington $ 6 1 0 9 3 0
No. 13 UCLA 5 2 0 9 2 0
No. 11 USC 4 2 1 8 2 1
Arizona State 5 3 0 7 4 0
Oregon 4 3 1 6 3 2
Stanford 3 4 0 6 5 0
Arizona 3 4 0 5 6 0
Washington State 3 4 0 4 7 0
California 3 5 0 3 8 0
Oregon State 0 8 0 0 11 0
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll

The 1980 Arizona Wildcats football team represented the University of Arizona in the Pacific-10 Conference (Pac-10) during the 1980 NCAA Division I-A football season. In their first season under head coach Larry Smith, the Wildcats compiled a 5–6 record (3–4 against Pac-10 opponents), finished in a tie for sixth place in the Pac-10, and were outscored by their opponents, 275 to 215.[1][2] The team played its home games in Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona.

Despite finishing the season with a 5–6 record, the Wildcats defeated UCLA (who was ranked second at the time), which was a memorable moment in the early part of Smith's tenure at Arizona.[3]

The team's statistical leaders included Tom Tunnicliffe with 1,204 passing yards, Hubert Oliver with 655 rushing yards, and Tim Holmes with 545 receiving yards.[4] Linebacker Jack Housley led the team with 104 total tackles.[5]

Before the season

Arizona finished the 1979 season with a 6–5 record, and lost to Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. During the offseason, head coach Tony Mason was discovered as being allegedly involved in a cash payment scandal by giving boosters money to players, which was illegal under NCAA rules. As a result, Mason resigned as coach and was replaced by Smith, who was coaching at Tulane.[6][7] Smith was a former assistant coach at Arizona under Mason's predecessor Jim Young. In a press conference, Smith promised to rebuild the program and bring the team to a winning success.[8]


September 20Colorado State*KZAZL 13–1548,511
September 27at CaliforniaW 31–2441,000
October 4at Iowa*ESPNW 5–359,950
October 11No. 2 USC
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
CBSL 10–2754,789
October 18Washington State
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
USAL 14–3847,132
October 25No. 4 Notre Dame*
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
CBSL 3–2056,211
November 1No. 2 UCLAdagger
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
ABCW 23–1742,876
November 8at WashingtonESPNL 22–4549,341
November 15Pacific*
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
KZAZW 63–3539,576
November 22at Oregon StateW 24–715,300
November 29Arizona State
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ (rivalry)
ABCL 7–4453,108
  • *Non-conference game
  • daggerHomecoming
  • Rankings from AP Poll released prior to the game


1980 Arizona Wildcats football team roster
Players Coaches
Pos. # Name Class
  Rory Barnett
  Bob Carter
  Richard Hersey
  Brian Holland
  Tim Holmes
RB Hubert Oliver (C)
  John Pace
  Rich Roberts
QB Tom Tunnicliffe Fr
Pos. # Name Class
LB Jack Housley
Special teams
Pos. # Name Class
P Barry Kramer
P Sergio Vega
K Brett Weber
Head coach
Coordinators/assistant coaches

  • (C) Team captain
  • (S) Suspended
  • (I) Ineligible
  • Injured
  • Redshirt

Game summaries

Colorado State

Arizona opened the season against ex-WAC foe Colorado State in Smith's debut as Wildcat coach. The Rams converted on a field goal on the last play of the game to win it.[9]


The Wildcats went on the road to Berkeley to face California. Arizona narrowly defeated the Golden Bears to give Smith not only his first win as Arizona coach, but his first Pac-10 victory as well as his first road win.[10]


Arizona at Iowa
1 234Total
Wildcats 2 300 5
Hawkeyes 0 003 3

See also: 1980 Iowa Hawkeyes football team

The Wildcats traveled to Iowa in their next game against the Hawkeyes. Both Arizona and Iowa's offenses struggled throughout the game, but the Wildcats’ defense dominated and scored a safety early by blocking a punt. Arizona ultimately held on for the victory.[11] It was one of the only games in college football history in which a team won by only scoring exactly five points.[12] It was also Arizona's fifth consecutive win over Iowa dating back to 1970. They would not defeat the Hawkeyes again until 1998.


See also: 1980 USC Trojans football team

In Smith's first big test as Arizona's coach, the Wildcats took on USC, who was ranked second in the nation. The Trojans would hold the Wildcats to only ten points to win.[13] Smith would become a future coach at USC in 1987.

Notre Dame

See also: 1980 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team

Arizona played Notre Dame for the first time since 1941. At home against the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish, the Wildcats never had a chance against the Fighting Irish, and scored only a field goal.[14][15]

To date, this remains Notre Dame's only visit to Tucson, as the Wildcats believed that it would be too expensive to schedule a home game against a storied non-conference opponent like the Irish, allegedly since Tucson is a smaller market.[16]


See also: 1980 UCLA Bruins football team

For homecoming, Arizona hosted second-ranked UCLA. The Bruins were poised to get the top ranking with a win, as Alabama lost to Mississippi State earlier that day. However, the Wildcats put those hopes to rest by upsetting the Bruins and finally giving Smith his first home win as coach. It was also Smith's first big win at Arizona.[17] The win by Arizona, combined with Alabama's loss, stunned the college football world as the top two ranked teams lost that day.[18]

Arizona State

Arizona State at Arizona
1 234Total
Sun Devils 14 17130 44
Wildcats 0 070 7

See also: 1980 Arizona State Sun Devils football team and Arizona-Arizona State football rivalry

In the rivalry game, Arizona and Arizona State faced each other. For the Wildcats, this was Smith's first matchup against ASU. The more experienced Sun Devils dominated the mistake-prone Wildcats in a blowout. Arizona managed to get on the scoreboard with a touchdown in the third quarter that prevented a shutout.[19][20]

The Wildcats finished Smith's first season with a record of 5–6.[21][22]

Season notes


  1. ^ "1980 Arizona Wildcats Schedule and Results". SR/College Football. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  2. ^ "Arizona Football 2016 Media Guide" (PDF). University of Arizona. 2016. p. 107. Retrieved September 6, 2016.
  3. ^ "Wildcats upset second-ranked Bruins for huge homecoming win". Arizona Daily Wildcat. November 3, 1980.
  4. ^ "1980 Arizona Wildcats Stats". SR/College Football. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  5. ^ 2016 Media Guide, p. 86.
  6. ^ "Mason out as UA football coach in wake of alleged fraud scandal". Arizona Daily Star. April 7, 1980.
  7. ^ "Smith introduced as new UA football coach". Arizona Daily Star. April 28, 1980.
  8. ^ "New football coach promises change, hopes to bring success back to Tucson". Arizona Daily Wildcat. April 30, 1980.
  9. ^ "Colorado State spoils Smith's UA debut with last-second FG". Arizona Daily Star. September 21, 1980.
  10. ^ "Cats edge Bears, give Smith his first UA win". Arizona Daily Star. September 28, 1980.
  11. ^ "Wildcats nip Iowa, 5–3, in low scoring match". Tucson Citizen. October 5, 1980.
  12. ^ "Wildcats' win over Iowa featured a baseball score". Arizona Daily Wildcat. October 6, 1980.
  13. ^ "No. 2 USC dominates Arizona". Los Angeles Times. October 12, 1980.
  14. ^ "Cats no match for No. 4 Notre Dame". Arizona Daily Star. October 26, 1980.
  15. ^ "#4 Notre Dame 20, Arizona 3: Irish top Wildcats in desert". Chicago Tribune. October 26, 1980.
  16. ^ "Scheduling elite football opponents too expensive for UA's budget". Arizona Daily Star. April 20, 2011.
  17. ^ "Wildcats shock No. 2 UCLA in major upset". Arizona Daily Star. November 2, 1980.
  18. ^ "Arizona, Miss. St. shocks college football world with huge upsets". The Arizona Republic. November 2, 1980.
  19. ^ "Sun Devils Club Arizona with Defense". The Register-Guard. Eugene. November 30, 1980. p. 3B. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  20. ^ "Sun Devils too much for Wildcats". Arizona Daily Star. November 30, 1980.
  21. ^ "Ugly loss to ASU ends Smith's first year with Wildcats". Arizona Daily Wildcat. December 1, 1980.
  22. ^ "Smith's first year at UA full of highs and lows". Tucson Citizen. December 3, 1980.
  23. ^ "Smith seeks change to Wildcats after first season". Arizona Daily Wildcat. January 15, 1981.