Oddity of opening on road most odd this season for Wildcatsby Javier Morales on Aug. 17, 2010, under Sports
Arizona’s football team usually starts camp banking on another team traveling to arid Tucson to play the Cats in their environment to start the season.
In their first 10 seasons in the Pac-10 (and throughout the Larry Smith era), the Wildcats opened their season at Arizona Stadium. The UA did not fare all that well, winning only six of those games and suffering upset losses to Fresno State and Colorado State in the process.
Dick Tomey did not care about the supposed advantage of starting the season in front of the home crowd. In his 14 seasons as head coach, the UA opened the season seven times on the road, including four consecutive years at the end of his tenure (from 1997 to 2000).
In that four-year span, the UA opened at Oregon, Hawaii, Penn State and Utah. The UA beat Hawaii and Utah, but the losses to Oregon and Penn State took a toll on Tomey’s program.
The UA lost at UCLA three weeks after losing to the Ducks, effectively knocking them out of the Rose Bowl race (although the Cats managed to win their last four games that season).
Arizona’s 41-7 loss to the Nittany Lions helped derail a program that was 12-1 the season before. The Desert Swarm defense allowed opponents to score 30 or more points six times. Tomey was gone after the season. If Arizona played Pacific at home instead of at Penn State that season, Tomey may have never been let go.
The Wildcats played their fifth consecutive opener on the road when John Mackovic started his UA stint with a 23-10 win at San Diego State in 2001. The UA was decent away from Tucson in Mackovic’s first year, winning at Cal and ASU and nearly upsetting No. 15 Washington in Seattle. That was as good as it got under Mackovic.
Mike Stoops started his career with a couple of games against NAU at home, but lost difficult assignments at Utah in 2005 and BYU in 2007. He will attempt to win his first road season-opener when the Cats play at Toledo on Sept. 3.
Opening the season at Toledo is atypical of Arizona’s scheduling history. In the Pac-10 era, when the UA has opened on the road it has either played conference schools, western region programs (such as San Diego State, Hawaii, Utah and BYU) or top-flight competition in made-for-TV games (Ohio State, Georgia Tech and Penn State).
Holy Toledo: Toledo?
No Pac-10 football team has ever played at a MAC school, let alone the season opener. A road opener this odd against an out-of-region team from a non-power conference has not occurred since 1946 when the Cats played at Marquette.
The 1956 team with Art Luppino opened the season away from Tucson with a 27-12 win against Montana, but the game was played in Phoenix. The 1968 team opened with a 21-12 win at Iowa State, which was in a power conference (Big Eight) and had legendary coach Johnny Majors.
Other than that, the UA has played regional rivals, conference foes and established programs in road openers.
Calling a game at Toledo odd is not a knock on the Rockets, who should be a formidable opponent. Toledo’s location, conference and historical significance make it a different experience for the Arizona football program.
The late Smith, who, again, never ventured out of Arizona Stadium for a season opener in his seven years in Tucson, played in the MAC at Bowling Green, coached at Shawnee High School in Lima, Ohio, and started his collegiate coaching career as the defensive coordinator at MAC school Miami of Ohio under Bo Schembechler in 1967. Former UA coach Jim Young was also on that staff in 1968.
Although Smith probably would have not scheduled such a game when he was a head coach, he may have offered Stoops (a Youngstown, Ohio, native) a stamp of approval.
Tomey also started his career at Miami of Ohio as a graduate assistant in 1962. Tony Mason had a Ohio background, coaching at Niles (Ohio) McKinley High School and the University of Cincinnati before moving to Tucson in 1977. Mackovic is from Barberton, Ohio, and he too started his career as a graduate assistant at Miami of Ohio in 1965.
Arizona’s last six permanent head coaches — Young, Mason, Smith, Tomey, Mackovic and Stoops — share a Ohio past. This game at Toledo is not only odd, it was meant to be.