Today’s Pac-12 Friday series entry has us looking at the 1961 football season for the Conference of Champions and its Midwest adversary, the B1G. This is a season where we took the mythical national title away from Alabama and gave it to one of the teams below. Numbers never lie!
But will it be a team from the Best Coast or a team from the Midwest? You should know already, of course …
1961 AAWU MVP: Mike Haffner, UCLA
Three teams competed for the league title: UCLA (3-1 in conference play), Washington (2-1-1), and USC (2-1-1). The Huskies beat the Bruins, but the tie with the Trojans cost Washington a third straight Rose Bowl berth. The Bay Area schools both finished under .500 in league play, so our MVP pool is defined.
This award analysis comes down to two UCLA players: quarterbacks Bobby Smith and Mike Haffner. Smith topped the league in rushing attempts (176) and rushing touchdowns (10), while Haffner bested his peers in yards from rushing yards (703), yards from scrimmage (703), and total yards (1,030)—while scoring 9 TDs himself.
What breaks the tie for us is the fact Smith tossed more interceptions than Haffner did, while the latter also had a higher QB rating. So, while the Bruins thrived with two QBs, there can be only one MVP: Haffner.
1961 B1G MVP: Bob Ferguson, Ohio State
Ohio State won the conference with a perfect 6-0 mark, while Minnesota came in second with a 6-1 record; the two teams didn’t play each other, and the Golden Gophers got the Rose Bowl bid when the Buckeyes faculty famously voted to not play in the game. Michigan State finished third with a 5-2 record, incidentally.
Ohio State RB Bob Ferguson was the man, once again, for his team on the ground, and with lesser QB play this time around, Ferguson carried the Buckeyes by leading the conference in rushing yards (938), rushing TDs (11), yards from scrimmage (938), and total TDs (11).
This is somewhat of an open-and-shut case, as Ohio State QB Joe Sparma totaled just 345 yards and attempted just 38 passes on the season, while Ferguson and a stable of other backs stampeded the opponents on their own.
1961 Rose Bowl MVP: Sandy Stephens, Minnesota (original, confirmed)
The Golden Gophers dominated the Rose Bowl game, winning 21-3 and holding the Bruins to just 107 total yards. Minnesota QB Sandy Stephens won the MVP vote by rushing for two TDs and completing 7 of 11 passing attempts for 75 yards. Overall, he accounted for 121 of the Gophers’ 297 total yards.
With no defensive stats available, Stephens will get our confirmation with that dominant performance, as he became the first African American to win the Rose Bowl MVP.