The Pac-12 technically began on July 1 when Utah and Colorado joined the league. And Arizona officially played it's first game in the new conference on Sept. 17.
But, really, the Wildcats' new football era begins with today's homecoming game against one of the new boys - Utah.
Count Tim Kish, the UA's interim head coach, as a fan of an expanded conference.
"I think it's been a positive," he said. "You brought two great schools with two great traditions in. I think it's been a great addition to the Pac-10."
Both schools have experienced some growing pains this season. Utah is a respectable 4-4, but has won just one Pac-12 game.
The Utes scored 54 points in a September rout of BYU and 26 in a nonconference win over Pitt. They pasted Oregon State 27-8 last week for their first-ever Pac-12 win - and are still 10th in the conference with 23.2 points per game.
"We needed it," coach Kyle Whittingham said of the victory. "It took far longer to get our first Pac-12 win than we'd hoped it would."
Kish said the struggles are par for the course - and a sign of just how tough things can be in the West's premier conference.
"Welcome to the Pac-12," Kish said.
"That's all I can say, right?"
THE LAST TIME
In '05 opener, Stoops' decision to punt late backfired as Utes won
Date: Sept. 2, 2005
What went down: Quinton Gather ran for 127 yards and caught a TD pass as Utah beat the UA 27-24 in the teams' season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. It was Kyle Whittingham's first regular-season game as Utah's coach.
How it read: Star columnist Greg Hansen liked the UA's pluck, but was disappointed in Mike Stoops' decision to punt with fourth-and-five at the Utah 42 and Arizona trailing by 3 with 3:30 left. He wrote:
"In a lot of ways, the Wildcats played out of their shoes to have a chance to win in the final four minutes. But wouldn't you have jumped off the sofa and cheered loudly enough to wake up Rip Van Winkle had Mike Stoops ordered his punt team off the field and attempted to beat Utah, rather than play defense and punt? Even if it had failed, it would have been a sign of bold, attacking football, the type Tucson has so rarely seen. Oh my. Arizona had 'em on the run, a milestone victory within reach. It could've been so much fun."
Turning point: The Utes scored 17 points in a seven-minute span in the third quarter to take a 27-10 lead. Brent Casteel ran 59 yards for a score, Dan Beardall hit a 45-yard field goal and Eric Weddle intercepted Richard Kovalcheck's pass and returned it 24 yards for a decisive score.
Stats that matter: Utah took advantage of four Wildcats turnovers to take the season-opening win. Tailback Mike Bell led the UA with 99 rushing yards, and Mike Thomas - then a sophomore - caught seven passes for 92 yards and a score. The Utes ran 38 times for 226 yards against an overmatched UA defense.
It's history: Utah finished the season 7-5 after defeating Georgia Tech 38-10 in the Emerald Bowl. Arizona finished 3-8 in Stoops' second year.
TD on sportscenter
Golden 'ran out of gas' on 91-yard INT return
Robert Golden was crossing the 40-yard line - and on his last legs - when teammate Trevin Wade started yelling.
Run! Run! Run!
"I was like, 'I am!'" Golden said.
Golden's body was not cooperating, and for good reason. Midway through the most exhausting play of his life - last week's darting, 91-yard interception of Washington quarterback Keith Price that he returned for a touchdown - Golden's body locked up.
"Not just a brain cramp, but a whole-body cramp - like a terrible migraine," Golden said.
The return - Golden broke six tackles while running sideline to sideline before he found a seam - was so taxing that the Wildcats' safety was taken to the locker room and given an IV drip immediately after. He did not return to the game, but is expected to start today against Utah.
Golden, a senior safety, said the play was probably the best of his career. His darting play received regular rotation on ESPN's "SportsCenter" and other highlight shows. It wasn't the distance of the return that made it such a great play, or the moves Golden made while dodging opponents. It was the effort - and the way he finished: Half-walking, half-jogging and doubled over in pain.
"I think it was about the 40-yard line when I kind of ran out of gas," Golden said. "It was kind of a long drive that (Washington) was on. Having the long drives and making all the moves and cutting all the way backfield took a lot out of me."
He said it
Leach scoring big points with UA fans in Tucson
If Mike Leach is trying to score points with Arizona Wildcats fans, well, it's working.
In town this week to promote both his book, "Swing Your Sword," and the Jan. 16 Casino del Sol College All-Star Game, the former Texas Tech coach and would-be UA job candidate heaped praise on Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles.
Foles "may be the most underrated quarterback in the country - or one of them," Leach said, also mentioning Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Clemson's Tajh Boyd,
"Of those three, he's the most accurate passer," Leach said. "He's a big guy. He's kind of a slow-footed guy, so some people would argue with that. The thing is; there's fast people at every position, so turn him loose and let him give them the ball."
Foles is ranked third nationally with 2,934 passing yards, has thrown 20 touchdown passes and has been intercepted just eight times this season. The strong-armed senior has completed 70percent of his attempts; his 32.38 completions per game are tops in the country.
Just don't call him a "system" player.
"People who say he's a system guy … those are all people who have people who aren't as productive as him," Leach said.
"I mean, the justification for, 'Our guy is not as productive as your guy,' is 'Oh, there's a system.' Oh, really, you don't have a system? So you didn't call a play, everybody just went wherever they wanted to?
"If you don't have a system, why do you need coaches? You don't need coaches if you don't have a system. All you're saying is, yes, you have a system - but your system is not as good as this system."
Hitting his stride
Criner on a roll, knows he needs to keep it up
With his college career in its final quarter and the clock ticking, Juron Criner is determined to finish strong.
"We had a talk: He has to turn it on," said wide receivers coach David Nichol. "He knows he needs to: for our offense, for our team and personally. He knows that."
So far, so good.
Since catching five passes for 45 yards and one touchdown in losses to USC and Oregon State, Criner has been on a tear. In his last two games, Criner has caught 21 passes for 219 yards and five touchdowns; his 6.7 catches per game are fourth in the conference, and his 79.9 yards per game are fifth. Criner has refused to, with the exception of the UA's Oct. 20 win over UCLA, talk to the media since going on a self-imposed leave last summer. But coaches and teammates describe a player who seems to be figuring it all out.
And, finally, he's healthy.
Criner missed the Wildcats' Week 2 loss at Oklahoma State after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. He busted his hand in a home game a week later and sprained his knee in the UA's Oct. 8 loss against Oregon State.
Since then, he has returned to full strength. He remains sneaky-fast at the line of scrimmage and a crisp route-runner; his body control, always his strong suit, is even better.
With a solid finish to his season, Criner could regain some of the NFL draft buzz that faded following a slow start. He'll likely have to answer questions about his summer absence, injury history and inconsistency once he heads to the NFL combine in the spring.
For now, though, Criner is reportedly happy being himself - even if he's enigmatic, electric and a bit stubborn, all at once.
Nichol said Criner's steadfastness "in a weird way, makes him a good player."
"There's a safety over the top, he's double-covered, and he's like, 'Just throw it to me,'" Nichol said. "That's kind of his personality, on and off the field."
Utah at Arizona • 4 p.m. • Ch. 58, FSAZ Plus • 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (SPANISH)
Game-day breakdown by Ryan Finley
from wac to pac Arizona and Utah will face off today for the first time as Pac-12 Conference opponents. Here's a look at how they have fared over the years:
• UA's all-time record against Utah: 15-19-2
• Aggregate score: Utah 686, Arizona 667
• First meeting: Oct. 18, 1924 (Utah 32, Arizona 7)
• Last meeting: Sept. 2, 2005 (Utah 27, Arizona 24)
• Arizona's longest winning streak: 6 games (1973-77, 1983)
• Utah's longest winning streak: 5 games (1924-25, 1936, 1940-41)
Here's where Robert Golden's interception return ranks in the Arizona annals:
1. Chuck Cecil, 100 yards, Arizona State (1986)
2. Mikal Smith, 98 yards, Arizona State (1996)
3. Mike Scurlock, 97 yards, Cal (1994)
4. Allan Durden, 96 yards, at LSU (1984)
5. Robert Golden, 91 yards, at Washington (2011)