|1998 Arizona Wildcats football|
Holiday Bowl champion
|Record||12–1 (7–1 Pac-10)|
|Offensive coordinator||Dino Babers (1st season)|
|Defensive coordinator||Rich Ellerson (2nd season)|
|Home stadium||Arizona Stadium|
|1998 Pacific-10 Conference football standings|
|No. 8 UCLA $||8||–||0||10||–||2|
|No. 4 Arizona||7||–||1||12||–||1|
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.
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. During the offseason, Tomey believed that the late season surge by the team would motivate them for 1998.
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.
|September 3||8:00 p.m.||at Hawaii*||No. 24||ESPN2||W 27–6||38,745|
|September 12||12:30 p.m.||at Stanford||No. 21||FSN||W 31–14||30,096|
|September 19||7:00 p.m.||Iowa*||No. 16||FSN||W 35–11||52,634|
|September 24||5:00 p.m.||at San Diego State*||No. 16||ESPN||W 35–16||23,811|
|October 3||7:00 p.m.||at No. 20 Washington||No. 14||FSN||W 31–28||71,469|
|October 10||7:15 p.m.||No. 3 UCLA||No. 10||FSN||L 28–52||58,738|
|October 17||1:00 p.m.||at Oregon State||No. 16||FSN||W 28–7||30,231|
|October 24||7:00 p.m.||Northeast Louisiana*||No. 14||KTTU||W 45–7||39,218|
|October 31||4:30 p.m.||No. 12 Oregon||No. 13||FSN||W 38–3||44,931|
|November 7||7:00 p.m.||Washington State||No. 10||FSAZ||W 41–7||47,761|
|November 14||4:30 p.m.||at California||No. 9||FSN||W 27–23||36,500|
|November 27||4:30 p.m.||Arizona State||No. 7||FSN||W 50–42||57,953|
|December 30||6:00 p.m.||vs. No. 14 Nebraska*||No. 5||ESPN||W 23–20||65,354|
See also: 1998 NCAA Division I-A football rankings
|BCS||Not released||14||10||10||8||7||6||7||Not released|
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.
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.
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.
See also: 1998 UCLA Bruins football team
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. Canidate rushed for 288 yards, which broke the single-game Arizona record held by Jim Upchurch's 232 yards against UTEP in 1973.
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.
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.
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.
|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|
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.