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Arizona’s Week Zero opener at Hawaii comes with benefits and challenges

kevin-sumlin-postgame-arizona-wildcats-spring-game-2019-recap Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

By the end of this weekend, every college football team in the country will have begun training camp in preparation for the start of the 2019 season. Yet for the Arizona Wildcats, those preseason practices have been underway for a week already.

That’s due to Arizona being slated to play during what’s known as “Week Zero,” opening Aug. 24 at Hawaii. It’s one of two FBS games that Saturday, along with Florida vs. Miami.

This is the earliest the Wildcats will have ever played, but that accelerated start is just one of several unique things about Arizona’s 2019 schedule.

The 2019 calendar already allowed for one extra week of play, meaning most teams will have two bye weeks during the season. Arizona, by playing a week early, gets three weeks off over a 15-week span, two of those coming during September and the other in November.

“It definitely makes the season a little longer, but we get that extra bye week, which is nice to rest our bodies a little bit,” junior tight end Bryce Wolma said. “This is the first time we’re going to have three bye weeks in a season, so that will be interesting to see how that plays out.”

That’s a far cry from the 2016 season, when Arizona played 12 weeks straight without a break, or even last year when the Wildcats opened with 10 consecutive games before their bye. The longest stretch of games without a week off this fall is six, from Sept. 28 to Nov. 2.

“It’s a little bit different,” coach Kevin Sumlin said of the schedule. “But it’s different than last year when we played 10 straight, so I’m not complaining for three bye weeks.”

Training camp began July 26, a little more than eight months after the 2018 season ended with a thud via the blown 19-point fourth-quarter lead against ASU. Had Arizona won that game, and played in a bowl, the offseason wouldn’t have begun until some time in late December, further condensing the time before one year ending and the other beginning.

“We had a little bit more time because we weren’t doing anything (in December),” Sumlin said. “So for us and for me and for this team, for the coaches, we’re off and going. The only thing (Week Zero) hurts is it maybe cuts a week out of the assistant coaches’ vacation. But ... I mean, the whole team, we set the schedule early and everybody understood what it was. ”

Opening in Week Zero gave Arizona the option to add a 13th game—the NCAA allows such when a team has to travel to Hawaii—without having to sacrifice a bye. Instead the Wildcats get a week off after that long road trip to recover, taking off Labor Day Weekend when the rest of college football gets underway.

“Playing Week Zero, everyone is going to be getting into their first week of prep, but we’re going to be playing and everyone’s going to be watching us, so that’s going to be really fun to know that we have all eyes on us,” Wolma said.

That could be a good thing or a bad thing for Arizona, depending on how that opening game goes. Winning at Hawaii would give the Wildcats an early boost, but starting off 0-1 before almost anyone else has played could set the stage for a disastrous 2019 season.

“I think you have an opportunity ... for exposure for our program and for our university,” Sumlin said.