In the spirit of our ongoing editorial focus, we’re starting a new weekly series: Pac-12 Fridays! We will methodically trace the history of the Conference of Champions in multiple sports over the next six months or so, looking at a variety of different great teams from the Best Coast.
The league itself has had many names since football was first loosely organized in the 1910s: first the Pacific Coast Conference (PCC) and then the Athletic Association of Western Universities (AAWU), followed by—in succession—the Pac-8, the Pac-10, and now the Pac-12.
In football, the conference always has been closely associated with the Rose Bowl, of course, the oldest and grandest of the college postseason traditions. In basketball, the NCAA Tournament has been won 15 times by members of the conference—tied for the most in the country. As for the College World Series, the Pac-12 leads the country with 18 championships there.
So much history to explore … so much tradition to cherish. Come along for the ride!
Top 10 Football Teams from 1916-1939
We began our MNC Wednesday series in 1936, due to the advent of the Associated Press poll, but we’re going to dive back a little farther in time for this Pac-12 Friday series when it comes to football, simply because we have reliable records going back to 1916.
Using the Simple Rating System (SRS) at sports-reference.com, we can evaluate which teams were the best, sabermetrically, with what available data there is any time period, relatively, with some statistical context. We won’t go with SRS alone, as common sense and an examination of the schedule matters, too, of course.
This was the era of the PCC, by the way, and here’s our Top 10 for these years: Enjoy!
10. 1923 Washington Huskies (10-1-1)
This team tied mighty Navy in the Rose Bowl, with its only loss being a road defeat in Berkeley. Otherwise, the Huskies surrendered just 44 points in 11 regular-season games on their way to a memorable season. Washington posted a 22-0 shutout win over USC, and it took the Apple Cup, too, by a dominant 24-7 margin.
9. 1921 California Golden Bears (9-0-1)
So close to perfect, this Cal team also earned a tough tie in the Rose Bowl; otherwise, it would have been ranked higher on our list. The Golden Bears gave up just 33 points all season, including the game in Pasadena on January 2, 1922. Beating Stanford and USC by a combined 80-14 margin certainly put smiles on the face of Cal loyalists at the time.
8. 1926 Stanford Indians (10-0-1)
Just like the two teams above, this squad also tied the Rose Bowl to miss a chance at moving up on this list. But there’s no shame in a 7-7 deadlock with Alabama in the Granddaddy of Them All, is there? Stanford beat up Cal, 41-6, and also squeaked out a one-point victory over USC on the road to put together a very fine season overall.
7. 1916 Oregon Ducks (7-0-1)
The schedule may not have been stellar, but it’s hard to argue with the results: six shutouts, including a 14-0 Rose Bowl victory over Pennsylvania. Cal scored 14 points on the Ducks in a 39-14 loss in Berkeley, while Washington State managed a field goal against Oregon at a neutral-site loss in Portland. Otherwise, the Ducks were spot on.
6. 1938 California Golden Bears (10-1)
If not for a 6-point road loss to a ranked USC team, this Golden Bears group would have run the table. That loss to the Trojans was the only time Cal gave up more than 7 points in a game all season where the defense coughed up just 44 points total. And while it wasn’t a “bowl” game, the Golden Bears did beat Georgia Tech handily on December 26.
5. 1935 Stanford Indians (8-1)
This group was one point away from perfection, dropping a 7-6 decision to UCLA in mid-October. Otherwise, Stanford—which gave up 13 points all season—was pretty great. Seven shutouts highlighted the year for the Indians, including a 7-0 victory over SMU in the Rose Bowl to cap it all off.
4. 1920 California Golden Bears (9-0)
Okay, so the schedule wasn’t all that impressive—Cal beat four regional small schools to start the season—but it’s hard to argue against a squad that scored 510 points and gave up just 14 points. A 28-0 victory over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl capped off a memorable and historic season for Cal, which included a 38-0 win over Stanford, too.
3. 1937 California Golden Bears (10-0-1)
This club was awarded our “mythical national championship” in the MNC Wednesdays series, so it’s only natural it would make our list here, too. In the modern era, the Golden Bears gave up just 33 points all season and won the Rose Bowl, 13-0, over mighty Alabama. A scoreless tie against Washington was the only blemish on the slate.
2. 1932 USC Trojans (10-0)
The 35-0 win in the Rose Bowl over Pittsburgh—a team that lost just 8 games in eight seasons from 1931 to 1938—capped a perfect season for USC. The Trojans outscored its opponents 201-13 over the course of the full season, and that included 4 shutout victories over PCC opponents. Only Cal and Washington managed to score off USC in 1932.
1. 1931 USC Trojans (10-1)
The best team of the early PCC era in college football was this Trojans squad, despite its opening-game loss to St. Mary’s College. Beating Notre Dame on the road, Georgia at home, and Tulane in the Rose Bowl made up for the defeat, in truth, as USC took on those three national contenders and beat them convincingly by a combined 97-26 margin.