Arizona Wildcats had Homecoming magic in the '00s
College football Homecoming games are normally a time to beat up on a helpless opponent to make your school look good in front of alumni, but in the 2000s, it has been something more for Arizona.
For years, Homecoming was more than just some alumni returning, a parade and a bonfire— it was actually a big football game.
After four straight years of nondescript opponents at Homecoming, Arizona is once again playing a ranked team and reigniting a tradition. Homecoming had been a big game with impressive results for the UA, but it lost some of its luster recently with games against the Washington schools and Utah and Colorado coming to town.
Now this season Arizona faces UCLA, No. 19 in the BCS, in a pivotal game in the Bruins’ and Wildcats’ quest for the Pac-12 South championship. It could recall echoes of past Homecoming glory.
Arizona is 6-2 in Homecoming games since 2005, despite having records of 3-8, 6-6, 5-7, 8-5, 8-5, 7-6, 4-8 and 8-5 during that span.
Even in years where the UA had little to no chance of making a bowl game, it rose up and beat a good team.
Arizona’s Homecoming magic began in 2005, when a 2-6 Wildcat team beat previously 8-0 and No. 7 UCLA 52-14 on Homecoming. The Bruins were the highest-ranked team the UA had beaten since a win over No. 1 Washington in 1992.
The next year on Homecoming, the Wildcats beat No. 8 California 24-20.
Then in 2007, Arizona again hosted UCLA on Homecoming, this time winning 34-27.
In 2008, though, No. 5 USC barely snapped the UA’s Homecoming winning streak, winning 17-10.
However, in 2009, Arizona beat Washington State 48-7 to set up a de facto Pac-10 championship game with Oregon.
In 2010, the UA celebrated the 125th anniversary of the school with a 44-14 pounding of Washington.
The next year, Arizona lost 34-21 to Utah, the same season former head coach Mike Stoops was fired.
Though Arizona played another uninspiring team last year, it made up for the Utah loss in the 56-31 win over Colorado as Ka’Deem Carey ran for a Pac-12 record 366 yards.
Now, after four years of yawn-inducing opponents, the UA hosts UCLA again. The Bruins have dropped in the rankings after playing Stanford and Oregon back-to-back, but since UCLA beat Arizona 66-10 last year and Saturday’s game has huge Rose Bowl implications, it is a big game again.
The question is, will the Wildcats capture the same magic that they had in the mid-2000s on Saturday?
Arizona averaged 53,613 in attendance in 2005 when the Wildcats went 2-4 at home, but only averaged 47,931 last year when it was 6-2 at home and played Oklahoma State, USC and ASU, beating the first two.
Maybe the return of alumni can wake up the sleepy Tucson locals and make ZonaZoo stay the whole time. After all, head coach Rich Rodriguez is 9-2 at home in his Arizona career, 3-0 this year — or perhaps there is just something about Homecoming at the UA.
—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520