A buzz of electric excitement permeates the desert here in Tucson, AZ. Oddly, it has nothing to do with the men’s basketball program. But it has everything to do with the 2018 version of the University of Arizona Wildcats’ football program.
New, and accomplished, Head Coach Kevin Sumlin has Arizona fans’ clamoring for immediate success. And if anyone could help produce these results, it’d be Coach Sumlin. After being fired by Texas A&M at the end of the Aggies’ 2017 campaign, it didn’t take the 54-year-old long to find a new home. He’s looking good in his fifties, ladies, and gentlemen. Isn’t he? I tend to think that y’all will agree with me on this one. And, who looks better with a visor than Coach Sumlin? Well, nobody. Not even legendary head coach, Steve Spurrier. Sumlin wins the visor war. Game, set, match.
Can you tell that I’m a Sumlin fan? I’m gathering that’s a resounding yes. Growing up as a youngster into my adulthood as a die-hard A&M fan, can you blame me? He helped bring an 11-2 record to College Station in 2012. A&M’s inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference. It included a signature victory in Tuscaloosa over the then No. 1, Alabama Crimson Tide. Not surprisingly, Bama is still No. 1 going into the 2018 season. To add icing on the cake in 2012, quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to ever win the prestigious Heisman Trophy. Wow.
Now, after several mediocre seasons in Aggieland, Coach Sumlin has found his way to Tucson. With his past behind him and the firing of Rich Rodriguez following a lackluster 7-6 mark a year ago amidst plenty of controversy, Sumlin gets his fresh start. And this Arizona squad has a crop of young talent led by junior quarterback, Khalil Tate. Mr. Tate has recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and is deemed one of the preseason front-runners for the Heisman.
Superb vision, Wildcat-like quickness, top-end speed, right arm strength, and leader all describe Mr. Tate perfectly. During the 2017 season, Khalil started the year as the backup quarterback to Brandon Dawkins. After an injury sidelined Dawkins, Tate put his tools on full display. His first start would be against the Colorado Buffaloes on the road in Boulder, CO. As the game-clock read all zeros, Mr. Tate had rushed for 327 yards — the FBS record for rushing yardage in a game by a quarterback. Goodness.
During his sophomore season a year ago, Tate brought lightning in a bottle to college football. Khalil finished 2017 with a Pac-12 record for a quarterback with 1,411 yards on the ground, including 12 trips to the house. And with his right arm, Tate completed 62-percent of his pigskin passes for 1,591 yards along with 14 touchdowns. All in all, 26 total house jobs will certainly do the trick under center.
Donning a No. 14 jersey in the Cardinal and Navy for the Wildcats, Khalil’s 6-foot-2 and 215-pound frame will be sparkling under the lights in just nine days. The Cats will host the Brigham Young University Cougars in Tucson on September 1st with the hopes of kicking-off the Coach Sumlin era in style with an exclamatory win. Looking at Arizona’s full slate of 12-games, highlighting a favorable seven-games on their home turf inside Arizona Stadium, I believe this team can easily win nine or 10-games in 2018.
J.J. Taylor and his mates of running backs will help Tate & Co. tote the rock. A fantastic group of wide receivers adds a little salt and pepper to the Wildcats’ high-octane offensive attack. With Mr. Tate’s passing ability and pocket awareness revamped under the tutelage of Coach Sumlin, fireworks aplenty are bound to go off.
What about the defense? They’re good, but not great. Getting opposing offenses off the field on third down as well as creating timely turnovers will be vital. Extra possessions for Tate will simply spell doom for the opposition.
Ironically, alcoholic beverages will be sold at Arizona Stadium for the very first time against BYU next Saturday. Yes, Brigham Young is a Mormon school. Interesting. Here’s to a wild 2018 pigskin ride in Tucson. Bear Down. Go Cats.