Pac-12 Friday kicks off the 1980s with a relatively down year for the Conference of Champions after the successes of the 1960s and the 1970s. But that’s okay; we are still here, regardless, in good times and bad. So, who would meet in the Rose Bowl this time, even, though there was no mythical national championship on the line?
Here is what happened—and the way we see it now …
1980 Pac-10 MVP: John Elway, QB, Stanford (original); Marcus Allen, RB, USC (revised)
The Washington Huskies won the conference title with a 6-1 league record, but they were closely followed by UCLA (5-2) and USC (4-2-1). The league MVP vote went to Stanford sophomore quarterback John Elway, who topped the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (147.2), passing touchdowns (27), and passing yards (2,889), ushering in a new era for the conference, in truth. In addition, California QB Rich Campbell posted a 70.7-percent completion rate, so the “West Coast” offense was now “in”!
But Elway is not going to be our MVP pick here, since the Cardinal posted just a 3-4 record in league play. The best player from one of those top-3 teams was again from Tailback U: USC running back Marcus Allen. After backing up Charles White for two seasons, Allen busted out to lead the Pac-10 in rushing yards (1,563), total yards from scrimmage (1,774), and total scrimmage TDs (15).
USC finished just sixth in scoring among conference teams, even with Allen on deck, which shows you just how much he carried the team to an 8-2-1 record, overall. The Trojans were ranked No. 2 in the country until back-to-back losses toward the end of the regular season against the Huskies and the Bruins doomed them to relative obscurity. In each game, the defense surrendered just 20 points, but the offense—even with Allen—couldn’t do much. He was that dominant, without a real supporting cast.
1980 B1G MVP: Mark Herrmann, QB, Purdue
Michigan went undefeated in conference play, edging out both the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Purdue Boilermakers by one game, as the Wolverines beat both teams head to head. But Michigan really didn’t have any dominant players, in truth. It was one of those rosters again that was flush from top to bottom without any major stars truly carrying the team to the league title.
On the surface, it looks like Purdue QB Mark Herrmann owned the Big Ten: He led his peers in the same categories that Elway led the Pac-10 in (yards, TD, passer rating), in addition to completion percentage. But then Buckeyes RB Calvin Murray also was pretty good, as he topped the conference in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage. Since the two teams didn’t play each other, we can’t break a tie that way, so we have to consider other factors.
How about teammates? Purdue’s top rusher finished tenth in the league, while Ohio State’s QB was second best in passing efficiency behind Herrmann. That’s good enough for us. Herrmann’s numbers, by the way, were a 150.5 rating, plus 3,212 yards and 23 TDs—not to mention a 65.8-percent completion percentage. The passing game had reached the Midwest, too, clearly.
1981 Rose Bowl MVP: Butch Woolfolk, RB, Michigan (original, confirmed)
The Wolverines finally won a bowl game in the Bo Schembechler era after losing the first 7 times out—including 5 prior Rose Bowls! With the 23-6 win over the Huskies, Michigan got the monkey off its back, so to speak. With a 7-6 halftime lead, the Wolverines came out ready for the second half and rolled over Washington pretty readily. Michigan RB Butch Woolfolk was named the game MVP at the time, as he ran for 182 yards and the game-winning TD in the second quarter.
The Michigan defense gets some credit here, too, though: After giving up 17 points per game through the first 7 games of the season, the Wolverines surrendered just 9 points total over the last 5 games of the year, including this one in Pasadena. But overall, Michigan did cough up 374 yards to the Wolverines, so it was not a particularly dominating performance there, even if the scoreboard makes it look so.
Therefore, we will confirm Woolfolk’s award: The Washington defense could not stop him, and that was the ballgame.