U of A Sports Programs Are In Rarified Company

It is early December and within about one month, the college football frenzy will give way to the road to March Madness.  As both football and basketball are on the college sports’ radar at the same time, it is noteworthy to see where the Arizona Wildcats fare.  

As of the second week in December, the 2014 Football Wildcats are ranked 10th in the nation and are slotted to play in the Fiesta Bowl on December 31 against #20 ranked Boise State.  The 2014-15 Basketball Wildcats are undefeated and ranked #3 in the nation, coming off quality wins against ranked teams from San Diego State and Gonzaga.  The Greg Byrne athletic department is making a spectacular showing on the national stage in the big-two sports.

So, I wondered how much of an accomplishment it is to be ranked in the top 10 in the two major college sports at the same time at this point in the year.  I found that the Wildcats are in some really good company.   

From December 2002 through December, 2014, only seven college programs have simultaneously had both football and basketball teams ranked in the Top 10 at this time of the year.   In 2004, 2011 and 2012, no college program in the nation had both their basketball and football teams ranked in the Top 10 in the nation in early December.

The leader among all of those who have achieved this distinction of dual Top 10 rankings is the University of Texas Longhorns, who repeated this feat four times over the past 13 years.  In 2003, Longhorn teams in both football and basketball were ranked 6th at this time of year.  In 2008, the December rankings placed the basketball program at #8 in the country while the football team was ranked #3 overall. They bettered this accomplishment in 2005 and again in 2009, with both programs ranked #2 in the nation at the same time. 

Ohio State is in second in accomplishing this feat, hitting the mark in three separate seasons.  In December of 2006, their basketball program was ranked #3 while Buckeye football was ranked #1 in the nation. They did this again in 2010 (basketball ranked #2 and football ranked #6) and in 2013 (when both football and basketball were ranked #2 in December).

Oklahoma accomplished this mark back in 2002 (football ranked #8 and basketball ranked #6) and the Kansas Jayhawks did so in 2007 when its basketball program was ranked #4 and football program ranked #8 in December polls.  Both the Florida Gators and LSU Tigers did this in 2006 (Gator basketball ranked #4 and football ranked #2; Tiger basketball ranked #10 and football ranked #4). The remaining program meeting this lofty standard was the 2010 Michigan State Spartans.  Their football team was ranked #9 in December while their basketball program was ranked #6 overall.

As is evident, the U of A is only the 8th program in the past 13 years to qualify for this distinction.  Their accomplishment of having two major sport programs ranked in the Top 10 at this same time of the season should not only be measured against other programs from around the country.  One need only look within Wildcat country to see the incredible progress that has been made with Sean Miller and Rich Rod as well as under Greg Byrne’s tenure since March of 2010.  

The basketball team finished its 2009-2010 season with a record of 16-15, failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years.  The Sean Miller lead Cats have since won over 78% of their games, compiling a record of 121-33 since the start of the 2010-11 season.  

The football program began showing signs of life before Greg Byrne and Rich Rod arrived.  In 2008, the Cats qualified for their first bowl game in 10 years, beating BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.  With the addition of Byrne and Rich Rod, the team has qualified for three consecutive bowl games.  

Greg Byrne has overseen major facility improvements on the U of A Campus, with a state of the art addition to the football stadium and much needed improvements to McKale Center.  His hiring of Rich Rod has been seen as genius, and Desert Swarm football is back on the map.  Under Rich Rod, they have gone from hoping to be bowl eligible to seeking national prominence.

It is fair to say that things are looking good coming out of the Old Pueblo, led by their Athletic Director, a guy who went to high school in Eugene, Oregon and who went on to be a 1994 ASU graduate.  Go figure!