We close out the twentieth century on Pac-12 Fridays with a look at the best college football teams in the 1990s from the Conference of Champions. It’s a mixed bag, for sure, but never a dull moment awaits in this space.
Enjoy our most diverse entry so far in this series … seven different schools made the cut!
Honorable Mention: 1995 USC Trojans (9-2-1)
Keyshawn Johnson starred on this USC team that beat No. 3 Northwestern in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans started 6-0 before dropping a game on the road to No. 17 Notre Dame and then tying No. 17 Washington on the road as well. USC also lost its regular-season finale to UCLA by four points, but the bowl win capped off a legit successful season.
10. 1997 Washington State Cougars (10-2)
Famous for losing the Rose Bowl in the final seconds thanks to controversial clock management by the officials, this Cougars team was WSU’s first conference champion since 1930. A road loss to Arizona State on November 1 was the only blemish on the record for Ryan Leaf and his teammates until they were robbed in the Rose.
9. 1998 Arizona Wildcats (12-1)
This version of the Desert Swarm held five opponents to a touchdown or less, and the loss came to eventual league champ UCLA. Otherwise, our first entry from the University of Arizona waltzed to 12 victories and a No. 4 final ranking. A Holiday Bowl victory over defending national champion Nebraska put a final emphatic stamp on the year.
8. 1993 UCLA Bruins (8-4)
The four losses came by a combined 14 points, which means these Bruins came close to having a stellar season for the ages. Either way, UCLA beat five ranked teams during the regular season, and it lost to two ranked teams by six points total. The Rose Bowl was one of those losses, 21-16 to the No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers. What a brutal schedule!
7. 1998 UCLA Bruins (10-2)
This team won its first 10 games of the season to push its winning streak to 20 games overall (see below), but fate then intervened. Ranked No. 3, the Bruins had to play in Miami against the Hurricanes on December 5 in a game that was rescheduled from September due to a … hurricane. UCLA lost a nail biter, 47-45, and then the No. 6 Bruins lost the Rose Bowl (again) to No. 9 Wisconsin.
6. 1991 California Golden Bears (10-2)
It had been decades since Cal fielded a great football team, but Head Coach Bruce Snyder did it in Berkeley with this bunch. The Golden Bears lost to the eventual national champion Washington Huskies in mid-October, but they recovered to reach the Citrus Bowl and beat No. 13 Clemson—only to lose Snyder to Arizona State (see below).
5. 1992 Washington Huskies (9-3)
The defending national champions started out the season 8-0 to run their overall win streak to 22 straight victories. Alas, the wheels came off at that point with road losses to Arizona and WSU, but the Huskies still won the conference and had a chance to win their third straight Rose Bowl. That didn’t work out, either, though, with a loss to Michigan.
4. 1997 UCLA Bruins (10-2)
Losing the first two games of the season by 9 points total didn’t stop this bunch from running off 10 straight victories to close the season with a No. 5 ranking. With one of those losses coming to Washington State (see above), the Bruins had to settle for the Cotton Bowl, and UCLA beat home-favorite Texas A&M there to complete the season.
3. 1996 Arizona State Sun Devils (11-1)
Snyder and Jake Plummer led these Sun Devils to an 11-0 record and the No. 2 ranking—with a chance to claim a national championship in the Rose Bowl. The only victory ASU had all year over a ranked team was a 19-0 win over No. 1 Nebraska back in September, but the Sun Devils were just 19 seconds away from perfection when No. 4 Ohio State ruined their season with a comeback win in Pasadena. Oh, the humanity …
2. 1990 Washington Huskies (10-2)
This team lost twice by a total of 9 points, and it started that aforementioned 22-game win streak with Apple Cup and Rose Bowl victories by scoring a combined 101 points in those two late-season wins. The Huskies beat three ranked conference foes by an overall 123-27 margin. That is pretty dominant, and it set the stage for a magical three-year run.
1. 1991 Washington Huskies (12-0)
This UW team is probably the best in school history, finishing second in the nation in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Huskies held seven teams to a TD or less, while beating three ranked teams by an average of 14 points per win. Trouncing No. 4 Michigan, 34-14, in the Rose Bowl was just icing on the national championship cake.