Welcome back to Pac-12 Fridays, where we take an occasional day off to go hang out in Lake Tahoe. But we’re back today to look at the 1980s, which was not the best overall for the Conference of Champions when it came to football “dominance”—although the Rose Bowl results of the decade might contradict the overall picture.
Let’s kickoff the column without any more delay …
Both these teams won major bowls over highly ranked teams, the Huskies over the then-No. 2 Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl and the Bruins over the then-No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl. Washington started out 9-0 before losing to USC, which cost it the conference title, but the Huskies controversially finished No. 2 behind BYU in the final polls. Meanwhile, UCLA tied Tennessee on the road, before losing to Washington and USC on the road as well, but the Bruins managed to beat two Top 10 teams, too.
10. 1988 UCLA Bruins (10-2)
This team was quarterbacked by Troy Aikman, and it started off 9-1 with only a close loss at home to Washington State to blemish the record. The No. 6 Bruins then lost the crosstown showdown with No. 2 USC to lose their shot at the Rose Bowl, but they recovered to smother No. 8 Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. UCLA also beat ranked teams from Nebraska and Washington during the regular season.
9. 1982 Arizona State Sun Devils (10-2)
A 9-0 start gave this group a lot of national momentum, as ASU reached No. 3 in the Associated Press poll. But a four-point loss at home to No. 7 Washington killed the Sun Devils’ momentum, and then they lost the Territorial Cup on the road, too. The consolation prize was a “home” bowl game, and ASU didn’t disappoint, beating No. 12 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl to cap off a double-digit season in wins.
8. 1986 Arizona State Sun Devils (10-1-1)
ASU started off 9-0-1 to rise to No. 4 in the AP poll, with only a home tie to Washington State to mar the mark, before another road loss in the Territorial Cup derailed the mythical national title hopes for the Sun Devils. However, ASU did get to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time, where it dropped No. 4 Michigan to cap off the best season for the school in its short conference tenure at the time.
7. 1989 USC Trojans (9-2-1)
It’s about time we saw a USC entry here, right? The Trojans won the conference and the Rose Bowl, over No. 3 Michigan, but the team was oh-so close to something more special—losing by one point to No. 22 Illinois and by just four points to No. 4 Notre Dame, before tying UCLA in the regular-season finale. When you’re just six points from perfect, it’s a memorable season, even without the Rose Bowl celebration.
6. 1980 UCLA Bruins (9-2)
In one of the last seasons where the postseason invites were limited, these Bruins didn’t get to go bowling. In a year where UCLA started 6-0 and rose to No. 2 in the nation on the strength of double-digit victories over ranked Ohio State and Stanford teams, the Bruins were crushed by back-to-back, six-point losses to Arizona and Oregon, respectively, in November. A victory over a ranked USC team helped ease the pain, however.
5. 1986 UCLA Bruins (8-3-1)
This team ranks higher than the same year’s ASU team, because of schedule strength. The Bruins played five ranked teams, going 2-2-1 in those games. One of those wins was a 45-25 pasting of No. 10 USC in the regular season’s final game, and the big victory over BYU in the Freedom Bowl was a statement game for UCLA. These Bruins finished No. 4 overall nationally in the SRS ratings for the year as well.
4. 1987 UCLA Bruins (10-2)
These back-to-back seasons for UCLA were very impressive, despite no conference titles or Rose Bowls. Like the team above, these Bruins also finished No. 4 overall in the SRS. How? Single-digit losses to Nebraska and USC were the only blemishes on the record, as UCLA—quarterbacked by Aikman—was ranked No. 5 before the loss to the Trojans cost them the Pac-10 championship. Beating Florida in the Aloha Bowl was bittersweet.
3. 1980 USC Trojans (8-2-1)
Washington somehow won the conference in 1980, despite having the fifth-best SRS mark in the league. Meanwhile, USC didn’t get to go to a bowl game in a season where it finished sixth in the nation for SRS. The Trojans started 7-0-1, but back-to-back losses to the Huskies and the Bruins relegated them to also-ran status in the conference. A huge win over No. 2-ranked Notre Dame to end the season made everything okay in the end.
2. 1982 UCLA Bruins (10-1-1)
A tie against Arizona and a three-point road loss to Washington separated this Bruins squad from perfection and immortality. Two wins over ranked Michigan—including a road game in September and the Rose Bowl in January—propelled UCLA to a Top 5 finish. The Bruins also beat the Trojans by one point to clinch the conference title. UCLA scored over 33 points per game to finish fourth in the country for scoring offense.
1. 1988 USC Trojans (10-2)
This team was loaded with talent, led by QB Rodney Peete. With a 10-0 start—featuring four wins over ranked teams from Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, and UCLA—the Trojans were No. 2 in the country for the last game of the season at home against No. 1 Notre Dame. USC lost to the Fighting Irish, and then it seemed to have nothing left in the tank while mailing in a Rose Bowl loss to Michigan, emotionally spent and deflated.