The Pac-10 Era has arrived on this miniseries with our larger Pac-12 Friday weekly feature! The Conference of Champions took off at this point in football, as our MNC Wednesday feature showed for this season. Just another one of those seasons when the voters screwed up, of course, which is why we’re here to right the wrongs of the past.
This is what really went down!
1978 Pac-10 MVP: Charles White, RB, USC (original, confirmed)
Strange was the scheduling in this first year with 10 conference teams, as USC won the league with a 6-1 record, following closely by UCLA (6-2) and Washington (6-2). The Trojans’ only loss of the season as a whole was on the road at Arizona State in mid-October. USC beat the Bruins and the Huskies on back-to-back weekends in mid-November by a combined 25 points.
Even though Trojans quarterback Paul McDonald topped the conference with a 150.6 QB rating, USC was just too good: Running back Charles White led the Pac-10 in rushing yards (1,859), scrimmage yards (2,052), and scrimmage touchdowns (14). How he did not win the Heisman Trophy remains a mystery today: He finished fourth, in fact. Either way, he did win the conference MVP.
We will confirm that award, readily, after we gave it to him last year, too, and after he won the Rose Bowl MVP his freshman year. White was simply one of the best college football players the sport had ever seen up to this point.
1978 B1G MVP: Ed Smith, QB, Michigan State
Four teams finished within a game of each other at the top of the standings here: Michigan (7-1), Michigan State (7-1), Purdue (6-1-1), and Ohio State (6-2). That could really open up the conversation for the league MVP. The Spartans beat the Wolverines on the road to claim the tiebreaker, but MSU was on probation and unable to play in a bowl game, so Michigan got to go for the third year in a row (see below).
Despite being responsible 29 TDs (!), Wolverines QB Rick Leach completed less than 50 percent of his passes, and he didn’t throw the ball enough to qualify for the QB rating title. Leach had a great season, but when a QB can’t complete at least half of his passes, he’s not winning any MVP awards, even if he did run for 611 yards and 12 TDs on top of his passing stats. Leach was just a glorified running back who couldn’t actually throw the ball.
Spartans QB Ed Smith has to be the league MVP, as he was the best in the conference for completions (169), completion percentage (57.9), yards (2,226), yards per attempt (7.6), TDs (20), and QB rating (139.0). He only threw 8 interceptions as well, so this was a real quarterback—and a good one, too, as the statistics demonstrate.
1979 Rose Bowl MVP: Leach & White (original); Lynn Cain, FB, USC (revised)
USC beat Michigan again, 17-10, in a game more remembered for White’s phantom TD than anything else. The press voted for co-MVPs at the time: Leach and White. The Wolverines QB threw two interceptions and completed less than half his passes, while averaging less than two yards per rushing attempt—for the losing team. He was not an MVP here at all. But neither was White, since he didn’t really score that TD, nor did he dominate the game, running for just 99 yards on a whopping 32 carries.
In fact, Michigan out-gained USC, 271-233, and there were 18 punts (!) in this game. Who stood out? Really only one player: USC fullback Lynn Cain, who carried the ball 14 times for 90 yards. Without his efforts and getting big chunks of yardage on the ground, the Trojans don’t win this game with their injured QB who barely threw the ball at all through the game.