Today on Pac-12 Friday we look at the final season of the eight-team Conference of Champions in football, for the conference expanded to add the Arizona schools in 1978. And our column today does not feature any mythical national championship contenders, either, so there’s that. This doesn’t mean it was a “boring” season for the Pac-8 or the B1G, of course.
This is how it all unfolded …
1977 Pac-8 MVP: Guy Benjamin, QB, Stanford & Warren Moon, QB, Washington (original); Charles White, RB, USC (revised)
The Washington Huskies broke through to win the conference crown with a 6-1 league record, followed by three teams at 5-2 in conference play: Stanford, UCLA, and USC. The one UW loss came to UCLA, which later had to vacate all its wins from the season due to NCAA infractions involving faked academic transcripts.
Either way, two quarterbacks tied for the MVP vote at the time: Stanford’s Guy Benjamin and Washington’s Warren Moon, even though it was Trojans QB Rob Hertel who led the Pac-8 in passing efficiency. Go figure. None of the three QBs was truly outstanding, however, in any sort of dominant fashion, while Benjamin and Hertel had some serious help (see below).
We still look at USC running back Charles White as the prime candidate here, despite the Trojans’ second-place finish. He led to the league in rushing yards (1,478), total scrimmage yards (1,616) while scoring 9 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Stanford’s Darrin Nelson was right behind him in total yards (1,593) as a dual-threat RB. We’re going to go with White here, as he did his dirty work against the No. 3-rated schedule in the nation, and that says a lot about the quality of his quantity right there.
1977 B1G MVP: Ron Springs, RB, Ohio State
Michigan and Ohio State tied for the conference lead with 7-1 league records, and the Wolverines won the head-to-head matchup to claim the tiebreaker. Meanwhile, Michigan State was right behind the Big Two with a 6-1-1 mark in conference play. The fourth-place team, Indiana, finished two full games behind the Spartans in the standings. This helps us narrow down candidates, of course, for the unofficial MVP nod.
Buckeyes RB Ron Springs is the one player who stands out from the rest, as he topped the conference in both rushing (1,166) and total scrimmage yards (1,256). Wolverines QB Rick Leach posted 20 total TDs (13 passing 7 rushing), but his overall usage rate still wasn’t very high, as the Michigan backfield also had two runners combining for 1,756 yards on the ground. Leach tossed only 12-plus passing attempts a game, for example.
So, we will go with Springs here, even though his numbers—despite being the best in the league—are somewhat underwhelming overall when compared to White’s numbers above, for example.
1978 Rose Bowl MVP: Warren Moon, QB, Washington (original); Spider Gaines, WR, Washington (revised)
The No. 4 Wolverines were big favorites, but they fell flat on their faces as the No. 13 Huskies built a 17-0 halftime lead and extended it to 24-0 before Michigan scored. Washington led 27-7 entering the fourth quarter, as the Wolverines were in desperation mode and could not close the gap. Moon was named the game’s MVP at the time for his efforts, which included running for both first-half Husky TDs, but he also tossed 2 interceptions which enabled Michigan’s comeback.
We see Washington wide receiver Spider Gaines as a better MVP pick, as Moon’s two rushing TDs were short runs and situational. With Huskies RB Joe Steele carrying the ball 13 times for 77 yards, he did more damage on the ground than Moon did, but Moon got the short TD runs. Meanwhile, Gaines only caught 4 passes—among Moon’s mere 12 completions—but he netted 122 yards on those receptions, which was two thirds of Moon’s passing total. That kind of efficiency is impressive.
In addition, Gaines scored the game-winning TD in the third quarter on a pass from Moon to make it 24-0 in the third quarter, and the Wolverines were never able to get out of that hole. Gaines was the difference maker, and he delivered the game clincher, too.