We took a little break the last few weeks for Covid vaccination, but we’re back on Pac-12 Fridays today with a new feature: Looking at the best football players from the Conference of Champions, year by year, along with those from the B1G, too. We will start with the 1956 season, as that is when the statistics we’re used to seeing started being compiled consistently.
With that, here we go, year by year, in chronological order, choosing the league MVPs and the Rose Bowl MVP as well … This series will resemble our weekly efforts for MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA awards, basically.
Enjoy the ride, as it’s going to last for more than a year. Hang on!
1956 PCC MVP: C.R. Roberts, USC
Only three teams had legitimate conference championship hopes: Oregon State, USC, and UCLA. The Beavers won the league with a conference record of 6-1-1, while both the L.A. schools ended up with 5-2 league marks. The quarterbacking of the era was minimal, as only two QBs threw the ball enough to have any impact, and both played for losing teams. That leaves us with some choices among offensive stars: USC running back C.R. Roberts (827 total yards, 5 TDs) and Oregon State RB Earnel Durden (738 total yards, 6 TDs).
Durden had the extra game in the Rose Bowl (see below), so Roberts’ per-game output is greater, for sure. Also, the Trojans did beat the Beavers in the head-to-head matchup, so there’s that. However, USC lost two other games. We don’t have boxscores for the individual games, so that makes us lean toward Roberts for the MVP nod.
1956 B1G MVP: Ken Ploen, Iowa
The B1G was tough, with five teams finishing within a game of each other in the conference standings: Iowa (5-1), Michigan (5-2), Minnesota (4-1-2), Michigan State (4-2), and Ohio State (4-2). That should give us a lot of options for a league MVP. Purdue QB Len Dawson—a future AFL MVP winner in our book, twice actually—was the best passer, but the Boilermakers won just one conference game (1-4-2). That leaves us with a similar situation to the one in the PCC.
The Buckeyes had two dominant players: RBs Don Clark (797 total yards, 7 TDs) and James Roseboro (794 total yards, 7 TDs). We couldn’t choose between them, and even with both players, Ohio State didn’t win the conference title. In the end, it’s Iowa QB Ken Ploen who gets our MVP nod—and not for his arm. While he did throw 5 TDs and just 3 interceptions, Ploen also ran for 487 yards and 6 TDs on the year. Those 11 total TDs topped the B1G, and he led his team to the conference championship.
1956 Rose Bowl MVP: Ken Ploen, Iowa (original), Collins Hagler, RB (revised)
The Hawkeyes beat the Beavers, 35-19, on January 1, 1957 in Pasadena. Ploen completed 9 of 10 pass attempts (including a relatively meaningless 4th-quarter TD pass) and rushed for 59 yards—including a 49-yard run for the first score of the game. He was voted the game’s MVP, but we also like Iowa RB Collins Hagler. After scoring just four times in the regular season, he scored twice in the Rose Bowl—and both scores were huge.
Oregon State fumbled the ball away after the opening Hawkeyes score by Ploen, and Hagler made the Beavers pay with a 9-yard TD run to make it 14-0 barely halfway through the first quarter (see picture above). That was the first nail in the OSU coffin. Then, after taking a 21-6 lead into halftime, Iowa got the ball to start the third quarter, and Hagler ripped off a 66-yard TD run to drive the spike through the Beavers’ collective heart. His two scores meant more than Ploen’s two scoring plays, for sure.
Remember, we chose the Hawkeyes for the mythical national championship in 1956, so Hagler’s performance in the Rose Bowl sealed that deal for Iowa. We can’t ignore the timing of the two players’ respective scores here in deciding this game’s outcome.