When Wildcats coaches told senior defensive tackle Joe Salave'a
in January that the NCAA had awarded him another year of
eligibility, he thought they were joking. After all, the 6'4",
280-pound Samoan had already played in the East-West Shrine Game
and the Hula Bowl--two showcases for the nation's top senior
players. No way was he going to fall for this one.
Much to his surprise, though, the coaches weren't kidding.
Proposition 68, which was approved at the NCAA convention on
Jan. 13, restores a year of eligibility to any athlete who
enters college as a partial academic qualifier--as Salave'a did
after failing to score high enough on both the SAT and the
ACT--but earns his degree in four years. All Salave'a had to do
if he wanted to play another season for the Wildcats was remove
his name from consideration for last April's NFL draft, enroll
for the spring semester and pass the 16 hours he needed for his
He did it all. Salave'a, who was expected to be a mid- to
late-round pick, says that at first his mind "really got clouded
up" by the choice he faced, but he wanted his degree and decided
that another year of college might enhance his NFL prospects.
"He'll be the only guy to play in the East-West Game twice,"
says Arizona coach Dick Tomey. "We were really lucky. Had he
retained an agent, he wouldn't have been eligible."
With Salave'a, who had six sacks last season and was the
Wildcats' co-MVP, Arizona has 10 returning starters on defense,
including the entire secondary--pivotal in the pass-happy
Pac-10. Junior cornerback Chris McAlister led the conference
with six interceptions last season and had a 100-yard kickoff
return against UCLA. The man on the inside will be senior
linebacker Chester Burnett, who shared the Pac-10 lead with 124
tackles in '96. The Wildcats also welcome back assistant coach
Rich Ellerson, an architect of the Desert Swarm defense that
they have used since 1992. Ellerson spent last fall as the coach
at Southern Utah, but left after a 4-7 season.
In addition to the veteran defense, there's another reason for
optimism in the Sonora Desert: sophomore Keith Smith, one of the
country's most exciting quarterbacks. In Arizona's 56-55,
four-overtime loss at California last year, Smith set an NCAA
single-game record for total offense by a freshman (502 yards).
On the season he was the team's second-leading rusher (136
carries for 546 yards and eight touchdowns), and he went six
consecutive games without an interception on his way to
completing a school-record 60.6% of his passes.
If there's a knock against Smith, it's that he tends to scramble
prematurely. "Sometimes we wish he'd wait one more fraction of a
second," says offensive coordinator Homer Smith. The extra time
might enable him to make better use of senior wideouts Jeremy
McDaniel (31 catches for 607 yards and three TDs in '96) and
Rodney Williams (23 catches, 275 yards, one TD).
The Wildcats have all the ingredients to finally end the season
in Pasadena. (They are the only Pac-10 or Big Ten team that has
never played in the Rose Bowl.) Arizona can certainly count on
maximum effort from Salave'a. As he puts it, "I have to make it
worthwhile that I stayed in Tucson." --K.B.
16 Turnovers last season by Arizona, whose
+1.18-turnovers-per-game margin was the best in the Pac-10 and
seventh best in the nation.
TWO GAMES TO WATCH
SEPT. 27 AT UCLA Are the Wildcats a real Pac-10 threat? They get
an early clue when they try to repeat last year's 35-17 drubbing
of the Bruins.
OCT. 18 VS. WASHINGTON A Wild West showdown between sophomore
quarterbacks: Arizona's Keith Smith and the Huskies' Brock Huard.
Passing Keith Smith Soph. 117 comp., 193 att.,
1,450 yds., 11 TDs
Rushing Smith 546 yds., 8 TDs
Receiving Jeremy McDaniel Sr. 31 catches, 607 yds.,
Tackles LB Chester Burnett Sr. 124
Interceptions CB Chris McAlister Jr. 6