Here on Pac-12 Friday we are analyzing league MVPs for the Conference of Champions in football now, as we move through the 1970s. We’re also still picking “original” winners for the B1G MVP in the sport, as well. We cannot go wrong there, of course. Or can we? Up to you to decide, of course, but we will spoil something: We have an MNC winner here this week, in a surprise.
1976 Pac-8 MVP: Ricky Bell, RB, USC (original, confirmed)
The USC Trojans went through the league slate undefeated, so they won the conference title, finishing one game ahead of UCLA and two games ahead of Stanford. The Bruins had actually been ranked higher than the Trojans when the two schools faced each in the regular-season finale, with the Rose Bowl berth on the line, but USC won the game, 24-14, and went on to greater glories while UCLA ended up getting hammered in a meaningless Liberty Bowl matchup against Alabama. Motivation is everything.
Anyway, our league MVP discussion revolves around Tailback U. and its star running back, Ricky Bell. He won the award at the time based on topping the Pac-8 in rushing yards (1,433), total yards from scrimmage (1,518), and total scrimmage touchdowns (14). Is there anyone else to consider? Not really, as the only other dominant player—Washington State quarterback Jack Thompson—could only carry the Cougars to a 3-8 record overall, including a 2-5 mark in conference.
So, Bell wins this award, readily, from us as well. He probably was the best Pac-8 player in 1975, but Bell was on a bad team that season. In the end, he still earned what he deserved, although maybe he was denied a Heisman Trophy for the wrong reasons. Only time will tell.
1976 B1G MVP: Rob Lytle, RB, Michigan
The Michigan Wolverines finally broke through and beat the Ohio State Buckeyes to win a trip to the Rose Bowl after four straight seasons of frustration. Both teams tied atop the conference with 7-1 records, while no other team in the B1G finished over .500 in league play. Talk about the Big Two and the Little Eight!
This is an interesting MVP discussion, as the Wolverines fielded the two best players in conference: RB Rob Lytle and QB Rick Leach. The former led the B1G in rushing yards (1,469) and scrimmage yards (1,550), while scoring 16 TDs overall, which was second best in the league. Meanwhile, Leach posted a 151.1 QB rating with 13 TD passes and just 8 interceptions, while also running for 638 yards and an addition 10 scores.
There’s really no one else in the conversation, but with Leach’s mediocre passing completion rate (47.6 percent) to consider as well, we will give the award to Lytle. He was the primary threat, and Leach’s didn’t throw the ball enough to really match what Lytle did. In fact, without Lytle, the Michigan QB probably would not have been as effective in the small doses that he was.
1977 Rose Bowl MVP: Vince Evans, QB, USC (original); Charles White, RB, USC (revised)
A smashmouth game that was not decided until the fourth quarter, this Rose Bowl was a classic, in that introduced the nation to future Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, the backup RB for USC. Bell was injured in the first quarter, and White—a teenager—took over the running duties and posted 114 yards and the game-clinching TD on 32 carries. The Trojans defense also stepped up, as USC outgained Michigan, 381 yards to 231 yards, in a 14-6 victory.
At the time, though, voters gave the MVP Award to Trojans QB Vince Evans, even though he tossed an interception and didn’t throw for a score. He did run for the go-ahead score in the second quarter, but overall, it was the defense and White who carried the day for USC. The 32 carries show us that, although White did fumble early in the game, too.
This is the truth: Trojans Head Coach John Robinson called White’s number more than he called Evans’ number: That tells us all we need to know, that USC trusted a freshman tailback more than its senior quarterback—with a possible No. 1 ranking on the line. Enough said.