1998 Arizona Wildcats football
Arizona Wildcats logo.svg
Holiday Bowl champion
Holiday Bowl, W 23–20 vs. Nebraska
ConferencePacific-10 Conference
CoachesNo. 4
APNo. 4
Record12–1 (7–1 Pac-10)
Head coach
Offensive coordinatorDino Babers (1st season)
Defensive coordinatorRich Ellerson (2nd season)
Home stadiumArizona Stadium
(Capacity: 57,803)
← 1997
1999 →
1998 Pacific-10 Conference football standings
Conf Overall
Team   W   L     W   L  
No. 8 UCLA $   8 0     10 2  
No. 4 Arizona   7 1     12 1  
Oregon   5 3     8 4  
USC   5 3     8 5  
Washington   4 4     6 6  
Arizona State   4 4     5 6  
California   3 5     5 6  
Oregon State   2 6     5 6  
Stanford   2 6     3 8  
Washington State   0 8     3 8  
  • $ – BCS representative as conference champion
Rankings from AP Poll

The 1998 Arizona Wildcats football team represented the University of Arizona during the 1998 NCAA Division I-A football season. Led by head coach Dick Tomey in his twelfth season, the Wildcats captured a 12–1 record (7–1 against Pac-10 opponents) during the year. It was Arizona's first 11-win season in school history and the best record to date, which surpassed the 1993 team’s record of ten wins. A loss to UCLA in the middle of the regular season prevented the Wildcats from earning an outright Pac-10 title and a potential spot in the Rose Bowl. The team appeared in the Holiday Bowl, and defeating Nebraska to complete the season.

Before the season

Arizona finished the 1997 season with a 7–5 record and won the Insight.com Bowl over New Mexico (an old rival of the Wildcats) that was played at the Wildcats’ home field. The offense improved late in the season and concluded the year on a winning streak. Soon after the season ended, offensive coordinator Homer Smith announced his retirement due to health reasons and Arizona had to get a new coordinator to build the offense.[1] During the offseason, Tomey believed that the late season surge by the team would motivate them for 1998.[2]

With most of the offense returning along with several starters on defense, the Wildcats entered the preseason as contenders for the Pac-10 title and looked to improve on their 1997 record for more wins. They were also ranked in the top 25 polls for the first time since the 1995 season.[3]


September 38:00 p.m.at Hawaii*No. 24ESPN2W 27–638,745
September 1212:30 p.m.at StanfordNo. 21FSNW 31–1430,096
September 197:00 p.m.Iowa*No. 16FSNW 35–1152,634
September 245:00 p.m.at San Diego State*No. 16ESPNW 35–1623,811
October 37:00 p.m.at No. 20 WashingtonNo. 14FSNW 31–2871,469
October 107:15 p.m.No. 3 UCLANo. 10
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
FSNL 28–5258,738
October 171:00 p.m.at Oregon StateNo. 16FSNW 28–730,231
October 247:00 p.m.Northeast Louisiana*No. 14
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
KTTUW 45–739,218
October 314:30 p.m.No. 12 OregonNo. 13
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
FSNW 38–344,931
November 77:00 p.m.Washington StatedaggerNo. 10
  • Arizona Stadium
  • Tucson, AZ
FSAZW 41–747,761
November 144:30 p.m.at CaliforniaNo. 9FSNW 27–2336,500
November 274:30 p.m.Arizona StateNo. 7
FSNW 50–4257,953
December 306:00 p.m.vs. No. 14 Nebraska*No. 5
ESPNW 23–2065,354
  • *Non-conference game
  • daggerHomecoming
  • Rankings from AP Poll released prior to the game
  • All times are in Mountain time


See also: 1998 NCAA Division I-A football rankings

Ranking movements
Legend: ██ Increase in ranking. ██ Decrease in ranking.
Coaches Poll252117161411171615111087664
BCSNot released1410108767Not released

Game summaries


To begin the season, the Wildcats traveled to Hawaii, where Tomey formerly coached prior to joining Arizona. The Wildcats returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown that would energize the team. The Rainbow Warriors would have no chance after that and Arizona did enough to get the victory.[4]


In the home opener, Arizona hosted Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ defense played tough to start the year, but the Wildcats’ offense would torch them all game long and Arizona got the win in front of a raucous crowd to go to 3–0 on the season for the first time since 1994.[5][6]


On the road in Seattle, the Wildcats faced Washington in tough environment. Both teams would hang with each other in terms of scoring and by the fourth quarter, the Huskies took the lead and were poised to pull the upset. On Arizona's final drive, however, they would get closer to the end zone with a chance at survival. In the closing seconds, Wildcat quarterback Ortege Jenkins ran the ball, tried to dive into the end zone, took a low hit around the shin area and front flipped across the goal line for the game winning touchdown with 6 seconds left and Arizona remained unbeaten and won against Washington for the first time since their big upset over them in 1992.[7]


See also: 1998 UCLA Bruins football team

UCLA at. Arizona
1 234Total
No. 3 Bruins 7 141021 52
No. 10 Wildcats 14 770 28

After winning a wild one at Washington, the Wildcats returned home for their next game against third-ranked UCLA, which was a big test for both teams.[8] In a battle between two undefeated top ten teams (Arizona was ranked tenth) with the winner taking control of the Pac-10 at the time.

Arizona started would start off the game with an early 14–7 lead before the Bruins answered back. Both teams would trade scores back and forth, which led to the score tied at halftime. In the second half, the Wildcats regained the lead at 28–24 before UCLA took it back in the final minute of the quarter before the game turned around in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Arizona tried to respond, but would make turnovers that would lead to the Bruins scoring for good. More mistakes by Arizona led to another touchdown by the Bruins to break the game open and the Wildcats never recovered. With the 52–28 win, UCLA showed why they were in contention for a national championship and ended the Wildcats’ chances at a perfect season, like they did in 1993.[9][10]


On Halloween, 13th-ranked Arizona hosted Oregon. It seemed that Tucson would be a scary place for the 12th-ranked Ducks (due to the game being played on Halloween) as the Wildcats would dominate in all phases and cruised to a win.[11][12]


Arizona, ranked ninth, visited Berkeley for a game against a struggling Golden Bears team. The game would be close, but the Wildcats would ultimately survive an upset bid from Cal to earn their tenth victory, which tied the 1993 team's record for most wins in a single season. The win also avenged Arizona's four-overtime loss to the Bears in their previous trip to Berkeley in 1996.[13]

Arizona State

Arizona State at #7 Arizona
1 234Total
Sun Devils 15 7614 42
No. 7 Wildcats 7 19177 50

See also: 1998 Arizona State Sun Devils football team and Arizona-Arizona State football rivalry

The Wildcats entered the “Duel in the Desert” against Arizona State looking for their eleventh win. The Sun Devils led for most of the first half before Arizona running back Trung Canidate broke off an 80-yard touchdown run to put the Wildcats ahead before halftime.

In the second half, Arizona seemingly took control before ASU cut into the Wildcat lead. Canidate would add a pair of long rushing touchdowns as the Wildcats began to pull away with a 50–35 lead. Arizona State would later score a touchdown to get within eight. After stopping the Wildcats, the Devils had one last chance in the closing minute. Needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to force overtime, ASU threw a pass toward the end zone that would fall incomplete as time expired, and Arizona captured their 11th win that broke the record of ten set in 1993.[14][15] Canidate rushed for 288 yards, which broke the single-game Arizona record held by Jim Upchurch's 232 yards against UTEP in 1973.[16]

Nebraska (Holiday Bowl)

Nebraska vs Arizona
1 234Total
No. 14 Cornhuskers 0 1307 20
No. 5 Wildcats 6 3014 23

Main article: 1998 Holiday Bowl

See also: 1998 Nebraska Cornhuskers football team

After beating Arizona State, the Wildcats waited for a bowl berth. With UCLA already clinching the Pac-10 title and being unbeaten, they would collapse against Miami, which ended their quest for a national title and prevented Arizona from possibly going to the Rose Bowl as an at-large team. As a result, the Wildcats were invited to the Holiday Bowl against Nebraska and the Bruins went to the Rose Bowl.[17][18]

Nebraska came into the Holiday Bowl a year after winning a share of the national championship and longtime coach Tom Osborne retiring afterwards. Arizona believed that they had a chance against the Cornhuskers despite Nebraska having a new coach.[19]

In the bowl game, Arizona would open the scoring with three field goals before Nebraska responded with 13 unanswered points to lead at the half. After neither team scored in the third quarter, the Wildcats retook the lead in the fourth. The Cornhuskers would answer back to grab a 20–16 lead. Arizona would then drive down the field to regain the lead at 23–20 with over four minutes remaining. Nebraska tried to come back, but the Wildcats would intercept them. Arizona then ran out the clock and ended the season with their 12th win.[20][21][22]

Awards and honors

Team players drafted into the NFL

Player Position Round Pick NFL Club
Chris McAlister Cornerback 1 10 Baltimore Ravens
Edwin Mulitalo Guard 4 129 Baltimore Ravens
Ronnie Smith Defensive back 5 168 Arizona Cardinals
Mike Lucky Tight end 7 229 Dallas Cowboys


Season notes

After the season

Arizona attempted to build on the success of the 1998 season by contending for both the Rose Bowl and a potential national title in 1999, but would falter during that season and would begin an era of futility for the program and led to Tomey resigning after the 2000 season. As a result, the Wildcats would not finish with both another winning record or bowl appearance until 2008.[32]


  1. ^ "Wildcats have a new offensive coordinator". Arizona Daily Wildcat. January 23, 1998.
  2. ^ "After finishing '97 strong, Arizona football poised to contend in '98". Tucson Citizen. July 15, 1998.
  3. ^ "Cats looking to bring excitement for '98 football season with high expectations". Arizona Daily Star. August 26, 1998.
  4. ^ "Wildcats dominate Hawaii in season opener". Arizona Daily Star. September 4, 1998.
  5. ^ "Cats give Iowa taste of their own medicine in win". Tucson Citizen. September 20, 1998.
  6. ^ "UA rolls over Hawkeyes". Arizona Daily Wildcat. September 21, 1998.
  7. ^ "Seesaw battle in Seattle; QB flip gives Cats victory". Arizona Daily Star. October 4, 1998.
  8. ^ "Arizona, UCLA to meet for big duel Saturday". The Arizona Republic. October 8, 1998.
  9. ^ "Bruins rout Cats, 52–28". Arizona Daily Star. October 11, 1998.
  10. ^ "UCLA's big fourth quarter tops Arizona". Los Angeles Times. October 11, 1998.
  11. ^ "A Halloween haunting: Cats crush Ducks". Tucson Citizen. November 1, 1998.
  12. ^ "Arizona Stadium was a haunted house for Oregon after Wildcats' win". Arizona Daily Wildcat. November 2, 1998.
  13. ^ "Cats edge Bears, earn 10th win to tie '93 record". Arizona Daily Star. November 15, 1998.
  14. ^ "Cats rule: Canidate's rushing performance leads Arizona past ASU". Arizona Daily Star. November 28, 1998.
  15. ^ "Hit and run: Rushing attack helps Wildcats outlast Devils". The Arizona Republic. November 28, 1998.
  16. ^ "A Heisman Canidate? Cats RB sets team record for single-game rushing yards in win over ASU". Tucson Citizen. November 29, 1998.
  17. ^ "No roses for Wildcats after UCLA collapse at Miami". Arizona Daily Wildcat. December 7, 1998.
  18. ^ "Cats invited to Holiday Bowl". Tucson Citizen. December 11, 1998.
  19. ^ "Despite Nebraska having new coach, Wildcats certain they'll compete with them in Holiday Bowl". Arizona Daily Star. December 27, 1998.
  20. ^ "Happy Holiday: Wildcats pull out 12th win by edging Nebraska in bowl". Arizona Daily Star. December 31, 1998.
  21. ^ "Miracle Wildcats go 12–1". Tucson Citizen. December 31, 1998.
  22. ^ "UA has Holiday, narrowly tops Nebraska in bowl". The Arizona Republic. December 31, 1998.
  23. ^ "1999 NFL Draft Listing - Pro-Football-Reference.com". Archived from the original on 2007-12-21.
  24. ^ "Rembering the Wildcats' 'Leap by the Lake' against Washington 30 years later". Arizona Daily Wildcat. October 3, 2008.
  25. ^ "No, 'GameDay' won't be in Tucson for Arizona–UCLA game Saturday". Arizona Daily Wildcat. October 7, 1998.
  26. ^ "ESPN's 'College GameDay' to coming to Tucson for Arizona–Oregon game". Arizona Daily Star. November 17, 2009.
  27. ^ "UCLA known for beating unbeaten Wildcat teams". Arizona Daily Star. September 28, 2015.
  28. ^ "Wildcats stunned by Rose Bowl near-miss". Tucson Citizen. December 8, 1997.
  29. ^ "Desert Storm? Cats' offense was lethal in '98". Arizona Daily Star. January 1, 1999.
  30. ^ "Wildcats had key players that led to 12–1 '98 season". Arizona Daily Wildcat. January 14, 1999.
  31. ^ "'98 team was the best in Wildcat football history". Arizona Daily Star. August 8, 2015.
  32. ^ "A decade of futility for Arizona football". Arizona Daily Wildcat. August 25, 2008.