1996 Arizona Wildcats football
ConferencePacific-10 Conference
1996 record5–6 (3–5 Pac-10)
Head coach
Offensive coordinatorHomer Smith (1st season)
Defensive coordinatorLarry Mac Duff (10th season)
Home stadiumArizona Stadium
← 1995
1997 →
1996 Pacific-10 Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
No. 4 Arizona State $   8 0     11 1  
No. 16 Washington   7 1     9 3  
Stanford   5 3     7 5  
UCLA   4 4     5 6  
Oregon   3 5     6 5  
California   3 5     6 6  
USC   3 5     6 6  
Arizona   3 5     5 6  
Washington State   3 5     5 6  
Oregon State   1 7     2 9  
  • $ – Conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll

The 1996 Arizona Wildcats football team represented the University of Arizona in the Pacific-10 Conference (Pac-10) during the 1996 NCAA Division I-A football season. In their tenth season under head coach Dick Tomey, the Wildcats compiled a 5–6 record (3–5 against Pac-10 opponents), finished in a tie for fifth place in the Pac-10, and outscored their opponents, 310 to 280.[1][2]

The team played its home games in Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona. On November 23, 1996, the team drew a record crowd of 59,920 to Arizona Stadium to watch a 56–14 loss to Arizona State. As of today, this remains the Arizona Stadium attendance record.[3] The Wildcats allowed 450 rushing yards in the loss to the Sun Devils.[4] The highlight of the Arizona State game for the Wildcats was a 98-yard interception return, the second longest in program history, by Mikal Smith.[5]

Team records set during the 1996 season included: three interception returns for touchdown in a game (vs. Illinois); eight touchdowns allowed in a game (vs. California); 16 touchdowns scored in a Pac-10 game (vs. UCLA); 659 yards of total offense allowed in a Pac-10 game (vs. California); and 450 rushing yards allowed in a Pac-10 game (vs. Arizona State).[6]

The team's statistical leaders included Keith Smith with 1,450 passing yards, Gary Taylor with 564 rushing yards, and Jeremy McDaniel with 607 receiving yards.[7] Linebacker Chester Burnett led the team with 124 tackles.[8]

Before the season

After completing the 1995 season, the Wildcats had to rebuild the team by finding recruits. Duane Akina, the team’s offensive coordinator since 1992, stepped down from his position and would become the defensive backs coach. Tomey brought in Alabama offensive coordinator Homer Smith to take over at the same position to fix Arizona’s offense that had been mediocre under Akina.[9] They also had to get a new quarterback and replacing most of the “Desert Swarm” defensive players, which included Tedy Bruschi, the leader of the unit, who graduated.[10]

By the preseason, Arizona, even though with a new offensive coordinator, was picked to finish in the bottom half of the Pac-10 standings.[11]


August 317:00 p.m.UTEP*KTTUW 23–340,388
September 710:30 a.m.at No. 22 Iowa*ESPNL 20–2168,267
September 147:00 p.m.Illinois*
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
PrimeW 41–043,012
September 2112:30 p.m.at No. 24 WashingtonABCL 17–3173,414
October 57:00 p.m.Washington State
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
Prime AZW 34–2647,405
October 123:30 p.m.at USCPrimeL 7–1451,088
October 267:00 p.m.Oregon State
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
KTTUW 33–743,716
November 212:30 p.m.at CaliforniaFSNL 55–56 4OT35,000
November 92:00 p.m.at OregonFSNL 31–4940,721
November 161:30 p.m.UCLAdagger
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
ABCW 35–1747,171
November 234:30 p.m.No. 4 Arizona State
FSNL 14–5659,920
  • *Non-conference game
  • daggerHomecoming
  • Rankings from AP Poll released prior to the game
  • All times are in Mountain time


1996 Arizona Wildcats football team roster
Players Coaches
Pos. # Name Class
QB 10 Brady Batten Jr
WR Brad Brennan Fr
RB 27 Leon Callen Fr
RB 30 Trung Canidate Fr
WR Richard Dice
RB Kelvin Eafon
QB 14 Ryan Hesson Sr
WR 5 Ron Holmes So
OL Rusty James
QB 19 Dan Loyd Fr
TE 88 Mike Lucky So
TE 96 Jeff Malone Jr
WR 15 Jeremy McDaniel Jr
TE Michael Metzler
OL 73 Frank Middleton Sr
RB Charles Myles
RB 33 Dennis Northcutt Fr
OL 77 Jose Portilla Jr
RB Kevin Schmidtke
OL 72 Yusef Scott Fr
QB Keith Smith
RB Scooter Sprotte
RB Gary Taylor
OL Ryan Turley
OL Willie Walker
WR Rodney Williams
OL Wayne Wyatt
Pos. # Name Class
LB 40 Marcus Bell Fr
LB 35 Chester Burnett Jr
DB David Fipp
DB Leland Gayles
DL Daniel Greer
DL Tyrone Gunn
DB Kelly Malveaux
CB 11 Chris McAlister So
LB 31 DaShon Polk So
DT 56 Joe Salave'a Sr
DB Mikal Smith
LB Jimmy Sprotte
LB Mike Szlauko
DL Steve Tafua
DE 90 Van Tuinei Sr
DL Chiuma Ugwu
LB Armon Williams
Special teams
Pos. # Name Class
K 41 Matt Peyton Sr
Head coach
Coordinators/assistant coaches

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


Game summaries


Arizona went to Iowa City and took on the Hawkeyes, who were ranked 22nd. It was Tomey’s first meeting against Iowa since his first season with the Wildcats in 1987 (Arizona lost to the Hawkeyes that year). The Wildcats would play tough with Iowa, but mistakes would cost them a chance at winning and they came up short.[12]


At home, the Wildcats hosted Illinois in their second straight game against a Big Ten opponent. Arizona’s defense would play like the Desert Swarm by picking apart the Illini offense and intercepted five passes, with three of them being returned for touchdowns on its way to a shutout victory and avenging the Wildcats’ loss to the Illini in the previous season.[13] To date, this remains the most recent meeting between Arizona and Illinois.


Arizona traveled to the Coliseum to face USC. The Wildcats would hold the Trojans in check, but the offense struggled in a defense-dominated game. Arizona committed crucial turnovers during scoring threats, which would ultimately lead them to lose.[14]


The Wildcats traveled to Berkeley to play California. The game would go back and forth between the two teams and went to overtime. It was the first overtime game for Arizona in its football history. Both teams would then trade touchdowns in the first three periods which set up a wild fourth frame.

In the fourth overtime period, the Golden Bears scored to regain the lead at 56–49. The Wildcats then answered on their possession with a touchdown of their own to make it 56–55. However, on the extra point attempt, Arizona faked the play but botched an errant two-point conversion run which would have been for the win and California escaped with the victory.[15][16]

After the game, Tomey said that he wanted to go for the win instead of forcing a fifth overtime due to the team being exhausted after four overtimes. He also said that the blunder on the game’s final play would likely affect the team for the rest of the reason.[17]


On homecoming day, the Wildcats hosted UCLA. After a slow first half, Arizona came up big in the second half with touchdowns, including one on a returned interception and another on a kickoff. The Wildcats would then shut down the Bruins the rest of the way for the win and kept their bowl hopes alive.[18]

Arizona State

See also: 1996 Arizona State Sun Devils football team and Arizona-Arizona State football rivalry

#4 Arizona State Sun Devils (10–0) at Arizona Wildcats (5–5)
1 2 34Total
Sun Devils 7 21 141456
Wildcats 0 7 0714

at Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona

  • Date: November 23, 1996
  • Game time: 4:30 p.m. MST
  • Game weather: Cloudy, 62 °F (17 °C)
  • Game attendance: 59,920
  • TV: FSN
  • Recap/Box Score

In the season finale, the Wildcats hosted Arizona State in the annual “Duel in the Desert”. The Sun Devils, who were ranked fourth and unbeaten, had already clinched the Pac-10 and a spot in the Rose Bowl and the Wildcats hoped to spoil ASU’s possible national title hopes like they did ten years prior. However, all of these plans were put to rest as ASU jumped out to an early lead and broke the game open before halftime, as Arizona didn’t seem to have a chance against the mighty Devils.

A bright spot for the Wildcats occurred early in the fourth quarter after a wild sequence of events. With the Devils up big at 42–7 and Wildcat fans already heading for the exits, ASU threw a pass toward the end zone that was intercepted by Arizona and returned 98 yards for a touchdown, which mirrored the Wildcats’ pick-six against ASU in 1986. During the play, an ASU offensive player shoved a violent hit on an Arizona defender, which would lead to a fight between both teams and the ASU player involved being ejected from the game. Both teams were also penalized for the brawl.[19]

After order was restored, ASU would add a pair of scores to ice the game. In the end though, the Wildcats’ deficit was too much to overcome and lost big to end their season at 5–6 and missing the postseason.[20][21]

Tomey told reporters after the game that ASU “played like an NFL team” against the Wildcats by putting up several points and stopping Arizona’s offense.[22] Arizona State would ultimately lose to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, much to the delight of Wildcat fans.[23]

Awards and honors

Season notes

After the season

The Wildcats had to once again rebuild the program after concluding the season. Defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff, who had been with Arizona since Tomey’s hiring in 1987 and one of the masterminds of the Desert Swarm, would leave Arizona to become the special teams coach for the NFL’s New York Giants.[29] Arizona had to replace him with a new coach to re-energize the defense and only the last few members of the Swarm remained on the team.

The 1996 football season would become forgotten by the spring of 1997, as Arizona’s basketball team reached the Final Four and won the national championship, though the football program continued to rebuild and recruit during the span.[30]

The Wildcats’ rebuilding offense would later improve and become dominant for the rest of the decade, and become a force in the Pac-10 as well as in the nation.[31]


  1. ^ "1996 Arizona Wildcats Schedule and Results". SR/College Football. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  2. ^ "Arizona Football 2016 Media Guide" (PDF). University of Arizona. 2016. p. 109. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  3. ^ 2016 Media Guide, p. 97.
  4. ^ 2016 Media Guide, p. 89.
  5. ^ 2016 Media Guide, p. 86.
  6. ^ 2016 Media Guide, pp. 82–84.
  7. ^ "1996 Arizona Wildcats Stats". SR/College Football. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  8. ^ 2016 Media Guide, p. 86.
  9. ^ "UA brings in Alabama OC Smith to same position; Akina promoted to defensive backs coach". Arizona Daily Star. December 10, 1995.
  10. ^ "Wildcats must rebuild Desert Swarm for '96 season". Arizona Daily Star. June 4, 1996.
  11. ^ "UA football projected to be below-average team this fall". The Arizona Republic. August 23, 1996.
  12. ^ "Turnovers doom Cats as they get edged by Iowa". Tucson Citizen. September 8, 1996.
  13. ^ "Wildcats pick off Illinois, get shutout win". Arizona Daily Star. September 15, 1996.
  14. ^ "Trojans hold off Wildcats". The Arizona Republic. October 13, 1996.
  15. ^ "Golden Bears survive against Arizona after wild quadruple overtime finish". San Francisco Chronicle. November 3, 1996.
  16. ^ "Cal wins shootout at the OT Corral". Arizona Daily Star. November 3, 1996.
  17. ^ "Final play of loss to Cal haunts Tomey". Arizona Daily Wildcat. November 5, 1996.
  18. ^ "Wildcats cruise over Bruins on homecoming". Tucson Citizen. November 17, 1996.
  19. ^ "'Duel in the Desert' featured ugly 4th-quarter brawl". Tucson Citizen. November 24, 1996.
  20. ^ "Devils toy with Wildcats". Arizona Daily Star. November 24, 1996.
  21. ^ "Scat! Devils whip up Cats, 56–14". The Arizona Republic. November 24, 1996.
  22. ^ "Tomey: Wildcats faced 'pro-styled' ASU team in loss". Tucson Citizen. November 24, 1996.
  23. ^ "Wildcat fans, Tucson rejoice after ASU's Rose Bowl loss". Arizona Daily Star. January 2, 1997.
  24. ^ "Arizona Stadium to feature special logo at midfield this season". Arizona Daily Wildcat. August 26, 1996.
  25. ^ "UA-ASU game expected to be a sellout". Arizona Daily Star. November 19, 1996.
  26. ^ "Fans doubt Wildcats can fully compete with incredibly hard-to-beat Sun Devils". Tucson Citizen. November 22, 1996.
  27. ^ "Record crowd showed sign that Tucson became friendly for ASU after Devils destroyed Wildcats". The Arizona Republic. November 25, 1996.
  28. ^ "Arizona Stadium attendance record for 1996 'Duel in the Desert' against ASU will probably never be broken in the future". Arizona Daily Star. November 27, 2014.
  29. ^ "Wildcats' DC Mac Duff leaving UA for NFL". Tucson Citizen. January 12, 1997.
  30. ^ "In shadow of basketball's championship win, Wildcat football still improving". Arizona Daily Star. April 17, 1997.
  31. ^ "After mediocre '96 season, Tomey Wildcats will be better in '97". Tucson Citizen. December 5, 1996.