Moving forward on Pac-12 Friday finds us in the first season of the “official” Pacific-8 Conference, along with another mythical national championship team to explore, albeit it from the B1G. The golden years for the Rose Bowl continued as the rest of the nation tried to keep up with the two best athletics conferences out there in the college sports world.
So, who gets the hardware this time?
1968 Pac-8 MVP: O.J. Simpson, USC
This is pretty easy to do, as the USC Trojans ran the table in the conference with a 6-0 league record, edging out the 5-1 Oregon State Beavers on the basis of a 17-13 victory head-to-head. The Trojans ended up tying Notre Dame in their final regular-season game, which kept USC from being perfect heading into the Rose Bowl.
The Heisman Trophy went to USC running back O.J. Simpson, who led the conference in scrimmage yards (2,091) and touchdowns from scrimmage (23)—all in just 10 games, of course. No one really came close to the Juice in terms of conference statistical dominance, so he wins our accolades, readily, for the second year in a row.
The next-best player (Beavers RB Bill Enyart) had 1,332 yards from scrimmage, which would have been good enough in most years to top the conference. Enyart also finished with 17 TDs from scrimmage, and somehow those numbers were not good enough to net any Heisman votes. Go figure.
1968 B1G MVP: Ron Johnson, Michigan
The Ohio State Buckeyes also ran the table in their conference, posting a perfect 7-0 mark. A 50-14 win over rival Michigan in the final regular-season game put a huge exclamation point on the season for the league champs as the Wolverines then finished 6-1. Purdue and Minnesota finished in third with 5-2 league records.
However, much like the 1966 Michigan State Spartans, these Buckeyes didn’t have any dominant stars—just a lot of very good players sharing the field. The two best players were probably Michigan RB Ron Johnson and Purdue RB Leroy Keyes, last year’s pick in this space for conference MVP.
Johnson edged Keyes in total scrimmage yards (1,578 to 1,431) and total scrimmage TDs, as well (19 to 15), and he still only finished sixth in the Heisman voting—while Keyes finished second. It’s like voters weren’t even paying attention to reality at all. So, we give Johnson our nod here, readily.
1969 Rose Bowl MVP: Rex Kern, Ohio State (original, confirmed)
With the No. 1 Buckeyes facing the No. 2 Trojans in the Rose Bowl, it was Ohio State emerging victorious, 27-16. Buckeyes QB Rex Kern won the MVP vote at the time, despite Simpson running for 171 yards and a TD. But he also committed two turnovers, demonstrating the defensive strength of the Ohio State team.
The Trojans actually jumped out to a 10-0 lead after Simpson ran 80 yards for his TD, but after that, it was all Buckeyes. Ohio State scored 10 points inside the two-minute warning of the first half, and then with the Buckeyes leading 13-10 in the fourth quarter, Kern threw two TD passes to break the game open. He’d thrown just 7 TDs all season long prior to the Rose Bowl.
In the absence of any significant defensive data, we will confirm Kern’s MVP Award here.