By Steven Weldon
In 21 days from this post, quarterback Khalil Tate will take the field for the Arizona Wildcats in his senior season. He'll start his final season in the second most beautiful state in the union, Hawaii. He deserves to start his swan song here. He has earned it.
Tate's entire college football career has been hidden from most everyone. As Arizona competes in the Pac-12 conference, they're relegated to playing most of their games very late at night; on the east coast, at least. This is a disadvantage to the casual viewer, but an advantage for the Wildcats. The state of Arizona is constantly hot, making playing football after the sun sets an important defense against the sweltering heat.
The Wildcats have also largely underwhelmed recently in football. In the 2018 season, a 5-6 finish was not good enough for a bowl berth. In 2017, the Wildcats made the Foster Farms Bowl with a 7-6 record, but they fell to the Purdue Boilermakers. Former head coach Rich Rodriguez, who was a catalyst to Khalil Tate's impressive sophomore season with his wide-open offense, was fired due to a sexual harassment scandal. Tate started his college career with one coach, and halfway through is ending it with a different one. That's not easy to succeed under.
Khalil Tate was in the Heisman Trophy conversation in the 2017 season after a few events. First, breaking the single-game rushing record for a quarterback, notching 327 yards on the ground against Colorado. Next, a three-game winning streak over higher tier Pac-12 opponents and four straight offensive player of the week honors.
Coming back for the 2018 season, Tate had more to prove. His junior season needed to be stellar in order to set up his draft stock and the rest of his football career.
Things did not go to plan. In his first game, he threw one touchdown against Brigham Young, but it was not enough; as the Wildcats fell 28-23. In the next game against the Houston Cougars, Tate had to take his attack through the air more, leading to a total of 45 pass attempts. He threw two interceptions, and the Wildcats had the doors blown off, losing 45-18.
Defense not holding up their end of the bargain would be a semi-common theme of the Arizona Wildcats 2018 season, but Tate was magnificent. At the close of the season, he finished with 26 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He had seven multi-touchdown games and didn't throw more than two interceptions after the Houston Cougars game. In Pac-12 play, the Wildcats finished 4-4, with decisive victories over Oregon and Oregon State.
Khalil Tate is primed for an impressive senior season, and may very well be one of the best quarterbacks in college football. The true question is, will the Wildcats defense help him?
We'll all have to stay up late to find out.
The Arizona Wildcats begin their season August 24th at 7:30 PM in the tropics of Hawaii, facing the Rainbow Warriors on CBS Sports Network.