Think the Arizona Wildcats’ season-opening loss at Hawaii was a bad sign? You don’t know the half of it.
It’s been 20 years since the Wildcats began the season with a loss and still managed to finish with a .500 record, and 22 years since they stumbled out of the gate and still made a bowl game.
Since Arizona joined the Pac-10/12 in 1978, it has started 0-1 on 12 occasions. Only four of those teams have been bowl-eligible at the end of the season.
This marks the third time in four years Arizona has lost its opener, with the 2016 team finishing a miserable 3-9 after falling to BYU in Glendale and last season’s squad going 5-7 following the home defeat to BYU in Kevin Sumlin’s debut.
(On a side note: this is Sumlin’s third straight season-opening loss, having fallen at UCLA to open his final year at Texas A&M in 2017)
Prior to 2015, Arizona’s last time losing its season opener came in 2007 when it yet again lost to BYU to pace a 5-7 record. The 2005 squad opened with a loss at Utah (prior to the Utes joining the Pac-12) and went 3-8.
You have to go back to 1999 to find the last time Arizona lost its first game and still managed to post a non-losing record, but even that initial result was a harbinger for disaster. The Wildcats were thumped 41-7 at Penn State—in the equivalent of Week Zero that season—and went on to go 6-6 with three straight losses to end the season … and Dick Tomey’s tenure.
The 1997 team was the last one to lose its opener and still go bowling, falling 16-9 at Oregon as part of a 1-3 start (including 0-2 in Pac-10 play). Arizona was 3-5 entering November before winning out, beating ASU in Tempe to become bowl-eligible and then downing New Mexico in the inaugural Insight.com Bowl.