Dear Mr. Football: How does the ’17 UA home football schedule relate to the old Tucson Toros?
A: Under Dave Heeke, Arizona has significantly changed its marketing approach. It reminds me of the old minor-league baseball days at Hi Corbett Field, when virtually all 71 home games had a marketing theme/giveaway. This is a pre-emptive strike.
Last week’s Rob Gronkowski bobblehead night was a first for UA football, and, according to my research, one of the first bobblehead doll giveaways in Pac-12 football. At Saturday’s Houston game, Arizona has packaged a $25 ticket with weekend soccer games against Texas Tech and Florida Gulf Coast. Arizona’s game against Utah is “Star Wars Night.” Batter up.
The next ticket-selling strategy, at Arizona and other Pac-12 venues, will surely be beer sales. Nevada, San Diego State, UNLV, Hawaii, Colorado State, UTEP and Houston all sell beer at their home games.
But now that Power 5 conference programs Texas, Minnesota, West Virginia and Louisville sell beer at football games, it will inevitably become the next revenue source in college football.
Dear Mr. Football: Did Arizona play a more difficult non-conference schedule in 1969 than now?
A: The ambitious ’69 Wildcats and athletic director Dick Clausen — coming off an 8-3 season — had big ideas about expanding Arizona Stadium and playing with the uptown boys. They clearly had a more daunting non-conference schedule in ’69 than Arizona has played for the last decade.
In ’69, the Wildcats played Houston, Kansas State, Iowa and Syracuse. They lost all of ’em and finished 3-7. The big-time scheduling was premature.
But incredibly, a year later, Arizona opened at Michigan (lost 20-9) and, undeterred, added UCLA and Auburn to the schedule.
Get this: Over the last 10 seasons, Arizona’s only two Power 5 conference home non-conference games have been against Oklahoma State and Iowa. By comparison, Arizona State has played home games against Georgia, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Missouri, Illinois and Texas Tech in the same period.
The Houston of ’17 isn’t the Houston of ’69, but it is, sadly, the “name” opponent of Arizona’s pre-conference schedule.
Dear Mr. Football: Didn’t Arizona learn a lesson by getting burned the first time it scheduled Houston?
A: The first UA-Houston game in Tucson was Oct. 11, 1969. The Cougars, who invented the Veer offense, led the nation by averaging 538 per game in an era when 300 yards was a big show. A week earlier, Houston smashed Mississippi State 74-0. A year earlier, Houston beat Tulsa 100-6.
In Tucson, Houston won 34-17 and gained 515 yards. The Cougars won their last nine games in succession and rose to No. 7 in the AP poll. Why schedule Houston at a time the Cougars were ranked in the Top 10 eight times between 1967-80? Because ambitious UA fans demanded more than a schedule of WAC opponents.
Dear Mr. Football: Is Rhett Rodriguez the first son of a UA head coach to play for the Wildcats?
A: RhettRod, who got a mop-up assignment at quarterback against NAU, became just the third son-of-a-coach to play for the Wildcats in more than 100 years. The first was Fred W. Enke, who played basketball for his father, Fred A. Enke, from 1946-48. He was a part-time starter, averaging 6.2 points in his career. Fred W. Enke’s main sport was football; he would play quarterback in the NFL for seven years.
In 1972, Palo Verde High School product Tom Tatum began playing for the Arizona golf team, coached by his father, Roy Tatum. Tom Tatum was the real deal, too. He played briefly on the PGA Tour in the late 1970s and became one of Southern Arizona’s leading pros and golf instructors over the next 30 years.
Dear Mr. Football: Why did RichRod fail to recruit heavily in Texas until this year?
A: RichRod was asked about recruiting in Texas by a Daily Wildcat writer about a year ago and rather than respond civilly, snapped at the student reporter: “Why, because it’s a big state?”
A better answer might’ve been that Larry Smith and Dick Tomey were consistent winners from 1981-98 without recruiting in Texas. Look it up.
Smith had just two Texans on his roster of 100 players when the Wildcats went 9-3 in 1986 and beat Houston 37-3 in the season opener at Arizona Stadium. Linebackers Zeno Alexander of Houston and Blake Custer of El Paso were the only Texans in uniform.
In the 1990s, Tomey was virtually Texas-free. He had just five key players from Texas from 1992-98, the top stretch of football in UA history: receiver Troy Dickey, lineman Idris Haroon and tight end Rod Lewis of Houston; guard Yusuf Scott of LaPorte and fullback Kelvin Eafon of Seagoville.
It wasn’t until Mike Stoops began populating his roster with Texans like Earl Mitchell, Syndric Steptoe, Mike Thomas and David Douglas that Texas became a rich recruiting vein at Arizona.
But Smith balanced his recruiting by getting game-changing Phoenix players like Byron Evans, Dana Wells and a core of Tucson players (David Adams, Jon Horton, Jerry Beasley) superior to those produced locally the last 10-15 years. Tomey got by without Texans by heavily recruiting the Polynesian community. RichRod has done neither of the above.
Dear Mr. Football: Who should I focus my binoculars on?
A: Find No. 10 and keep it there. Houston has two No. 10s: quarterback Kyle Allen, a former five-star quarterback recruit from Scottsdale, and a five-star defensive line superstar, Ed Oliver, from Westfield High School in Texas.
If Allen is on target, the Cougars will be difficult to beat.
But a more important matchup will be Oliver against No. 64, sophomore center Nathan Eldridge. Three years ago, Eldridge played at Boulder Creek High north of Phoenix and was offered scholarships by South Dakota State, NAU and Air Force. Fortunately for the Wildcats, he chose Arizona and has become a Pac-12-caliber player.
Eldridge has never blocked anyone as fearsome as Oliver, a franchise player and someone you’ll likely see on the stage with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at the 2019 draft.
Houston probably has better players than Arizona, 1 through 44, but this is a must-win game for the Wildcats and everyone in the program knows it. I think the urgency makes the difference as long as Brandon Dawkins plays well.
Arizona 41, Houston 38