The University of Arizona

Wildcats, Rockets to Kick Off New Football Eras on Saturday

Arizona Athletics | August 30, 2012

Arizona will host Toledo in the 2012 season opener for both schools on Sept. 1. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium with a national TV broadcast on ESPNU.

Arizona Stadium
Arizona Stadium
Rich Rodriguez
Rich Rodriguez

The Rich Rodriguez football era officially begins on Sept. 1 when Arizona hosts Toledo in the season opener.

This will be the culmination of a resolute offseason in which the 30th Arizona head coach worked feverishly to change the culture of the Wildcat program. The veteran head coach's transformation process coincides with the construction of the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility on the north end of Arizona Stadium, a can't-miss visual confirmation that the program is truly building toward the future.

The immediate on-field results will be anyone's guess as the Cats will debut new offensive and defensive schemes. Complicating matters will be a hungry Toledo squad seeking revenge for a couple of routs administered by the Cats in two recent meetings under the previous coaching regime.

The Rockets are fresh off a Military Bowl victory (42-41) against the Air Force, while the UA was on hiatus after three consecutive bowl trips. UT coach Matt Campbell will enter his first full season at the helm after coaching the bowl game.

A four-game or a two-game winning streak will be snapped, but more importantly it will mark an initial setback for one first-year ball coach and his squad.

The storylines at quarterback are plentiful, namely for the Rockets who are expected to trot out both Austin Dantin and Terrence Owens. Meanwhile, Matt Scott will find himself as the undisputed starter at Arizona for the first time in his career, and it seems a natural fit in Rodriguez's multiple-spread system.

UA linebacker Jake Fischer will return after a year's absence (knee injury) to become a centerpiece of a new 3-3-5 alignment installed by defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Depth concerns, mainly across the defensive two-deep, mean as many as a dozen true freshmen could debut for the Wildcats.

It will be a Labor Day weekend game for the Wildcats, who have lost just once on the holiday weekend.

The Wildcats and Rockets have met on three previous occasions, with the Wildcats claiming victory in each contest. Most recently, the UA opened the 2010 season with a 41-2 rout at the Glass Bowl.

The first two meetings were held in Tucson at Arizona Stadium, with the Cats prevailing 23-10 in 1985 and 41-16 in 2008. The UA has outscored Toledo a combined 105-28 in the three games. The game will be UA's seventh all-time against current Mid American Conference schools. The UA has previously defeated Toledo three times, and Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan once apiece (6-0 combined).

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was introduced as head coach of the UA football program on Nov. 22, 2011. He carries a career college coaching record of 120-84-2 in 18 seasons, marked by Division I records of 60-26 at West Virginia (2001-2007) and 15-22 at Michigan (2008-10). He began his head coaching career at Salem (W.Va.) University in 1988 and then coached at Glenville State (W.Va.) from 1990-96.

Rodriguez's West Virginia teams were Big East Champions in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007 while appearing in two BCS bowls, the 2005 Sugar Bowl with a victory over Georgia for an 11-1 record and a victory over Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl to finish 10-2 shortly after Rodriguez had left for Michigan.

The Wildcats also will welcome their new president, Ann Weaver Hart, to her first Arizona football game in the new role. Hart began her tenure in Tucson in July after serving as president at Temple University since July 2006.

Arizona is 78-25-5 all-time in the first game of the season, winning four consecutive and 10 of the last 12. The Cats will open the season at home for the fourth time in the last five seasons (opened at Toledo in 2010).

The UA is 13-0 since its last season-opening defeat in Arizona Stadium, which was a 15-14 decision against Iowa on Sept. 12, 1987. The UA has given up a grand total of 18 points over the last four season openers (4.5 ppg). The Cats have outscored those foes 171-18 over the four games.

This year, Arizona will host eight home games at Arizona Stadium, which is undergoing one of its most significant refurbishment phases in its 84-year history. The Wildcats have not hosted eight home games in a season since 1988, when the squad won five home contests in a 7-4 campaign. Arizona is 21-11 at home over the last five seasons.

The Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, scheduled to open in August 2013, will mark a dynamic shift in the Arizona football culture as it will become the centerpiece of the program on the north end of Arizona Stadium. Supported by private funds, including significant leadership gifts from David and Edith Lowell and from Jeff and Sharon Stevens, the $72.3 million project will provide the Wildcats with one of the premier football facilities in the nation.

The facility will be a four-floor operations center with strength training, sports-medicine, coaches offices, locker rooms, meeting rooms, equipment and facility service areas. The structure will enclose the north end of the stadium and create a full bowl with nearly 4,000 premium spectator seats, including a donor lounge with outdoor seating.

Additionally, stairways and elevator towers for the concourse will connect the structure to the existing east and west stadium sections. Restrooms, amenity areas and a cafeteria will also serve the campus community. Arizona Stadium has an official capacity of 51,811 for this season, but once work is completed on the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, the venue will near the some 57,000 seats it has held in recent years.

Up Next: Arizona will continue its opening stretch of three straight home games when it welcomes No. 19 Oklahoma State to Arizona Stadium on Sept. 8. The game will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks beginning at 7:30 p.m. MST.