The 1988 season has arrived on Pac-12 Friday as this miniseries progresses into 2022. Sadly, once again, the Conference of Champions and the B1G did not figure strongly into the mythical national championship chase. However, there was a bit of an upset in the Rose Bowl, so look for that below as we push closer to the modern day when it comes to league MVPs.
We had the fortune of meeting one of the players discussed below on our own athletics recruiting trip to a campus back in Fall 1988, which means this column holds special meaning for us, once again.
1988 Pac-10 MVP: Rodney Peete, QB, USC (original); Troy Aikman, QB, UCLA (revised)
The USC Trojans (8-0) went through the conference season undefeated, with only UCLA (6-2), Washington State (5-3), and Arizona (5-3) also finishing above level ground in league play. USC quarterback Rodney Peete won the MVP vote, while finishing third in QB rating (137.8) behind Cougars QB Timm Rosenbach (158.4) and Bruins star Troy Aikman (147.4). It’s hard to confirm this vote.
Then again the WSU offense had three players finish in the Top 5 for scrimmage yards, so Rosenbach had plenty of weapons at his disposal, while Aikman and Peete did not. Yet the Trojans had three players that finished in the Top 6 for scrimmage touchdowns, and the Bruins … well, let’s just say Aikman was their offense. Rosenbach and Aikman tied for the conference lead in passing TDs, nonetheless.
We’re going with Aikman on this one, after we didn’t confirm his MVP vote win last year. He definitely deserved it this season, when he carried the Bruins to a No. 1 ranking in late October before losing to both the Cougars and the Trojans. The team won the Cotton Bowl and finished ranked No. 6 overall, and they’d never have cracked the Top 25 without Aikman. We are thrilled we got to meet him at the time!
1988 B1G MVP: Anthony Thompson, RB, Indiana (original, confirmed)
The Michigan Wolverines won the conference with a 7-0-1 record, while Michigan State finished 6-1-1. Illinois (5-2-1) and Iowa (4-1-3) tied for third, before a bunch of other teams found themselves lumped together. Meanwhile, Indiana Hoosiers running back Anthony Thompson took home the league MVP honors as the Hoosiers finished fifth with a 5-3 mark. He had an amazing season (1,919 total yards).
But what about players from the better teams? Iowa QB Chuck Hartlieb, our pick last year for the award, dominated the passing stats, but his QB rating (138.0) wasn’t that impressive. After Thompson, the next-best player was Spartans RB Blake Ezor: He was a distant second to Thompson in rushing yards, scrimmage yards, and scrimmage TDs.
Indiana did hand the Hawkeyes their only conference loss, while losing to the other top teams by an average of 17-plus points. Still, the Hoosiers won a bowl game (Liberty) for only the second time in school history, and Thompson did have a lot to do with that. We will confirm his award.
1989 Rose Bowl MVP: Leroy Hoard, RB, Michigan (original, confirmed)
The Trojans had been 10-0 before losing a No. 1-versus-No. 2 matchup at home against Notre Dame to end the regular season, a game we were lucky to see in person. Thus, USC went to Pasadena without much motivation, and it showed in a 22-14 loss to the Wolverines. In fact, combined with the loss in the Rose Bowl the prior season, this is the only time the Trojans have ever lost consecutive Rose Bowls.
Michigan RB Leroy Hoard was the game’s MVP, as the Wolverines overcame a 14-3 halftime deficit to dominate the second half. Hoard gained 142 yards on just 19 carries, scoring twice in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback, upset victory. He was the difference maker in the game, as USC committed 11 penalties and completely disappeared after scoring its two TDs in the second quarter.
With Michigan QB Demetrius Brown throwing for just 144 yards and completing less than half his passes, this award should go to Hoard—and his offensive line, really. They all owned the final 30 minutes of the game against the Trojans. This was only the second Rose Bowl victory for Wolverines Head Coach Bo Schembechler—and his last—in 10 visits to Pasadena.