The start of the crazy 1990s has arrived on Pac-12 Friday as this miniseries progresses forward in its effort to catch up to the present day at some point in the calendar year 2022. The Conference of Champions and the B1G again did not figure into the mythical national championship scene, but we know the Rose Bowl always is the Granddaddy of Them All, no matter what happens anywhere else …
On with the show!
1990 Pac-10 MVP: Greg Lewis, RB, Washington (original, confirmed)
The Washington Huskies topped the conference with a 7-1 mark, distantly followed by the USC Trojans (5-2-1). Huskies running back Greg Lewis won the MVP vote with his 1,624 scrimmage yards leading the league, and his 1,279 rushing yards were also the best among his peers. He only scored 9 touchdowns, leaving him down the list of leaders, but the other players’ teams were buried in the standings.
The only other pretender to the throne might have been USC RB Mazio Royster, who finished second in scrimmage yards (1,367) and below Lewis in scoring (8 TDs). Thus, Lewis will keep his hardware, due to his team’s finish and his own standing among the league’s players, statistically speaking. He also missed the Apple Cup, so his statistics were compiled in one less game than what was possible.
1990 B1G MVP: Tico Duckett, RB, Michigan State (original); Howard Griffith, RB, Illinois (revised)
This was the year that four teams—Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, and Michigan State—tied for the B1G lead at 6-2 in conference play, with Ohio State right behind at 5-2-1. Spartans RB Tico Duckett won the MVP nod by leading the league in rushing (1,394 yards), although Wolverines RB Jon Vaughn piled up the most scrimmage yards (1,487), and two other players tied for the scrimmage TDs lead.
Those guys were Fightin’ Illini RB Howard Griffith and MSU RB Hyland Hickson, who each scored 15 times. In fact, Hickson finished third in scrimmage yards (1,347), which means neither MSU back really should be the MVP. And we haven’t even looked at quarterbacks yet! Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan all had QBs in the league’s top three for efficiency rating, while the MSU QB finished a distant fourth.
Hmmm. A point of deduction might leave us with Hawkeyes QB Matt Rodgers, but he was only third in passer rating and relatively unspectacular otherwise. His backfield partner, RB Nick Bell, also managed 1,317 scrimmage yards, so it’s not like Rodgers was going solo. This really comes down to which player carried the biggest load of the partnership in getting the team to the top of the heap.
To us, it’s Griffith, as his QB tossed 12 interceptions, which was the worst among the contending teams’ passers. The TDs were therefore key for Illinois’ offense, and even though he “only” managed 1,277 scrimmage yards, they carried more value with a QB who was giving the ball away every game.
1991 Rose Bowl MVP: Mark Brunell, QB, Washington (original); Lewis (revised)
The B1G ended up sending Iowa to the Rose Bowl, as the Hawkeyes actually beat Illinois, Michigan, and Michigan State in conference play. But the Huskies jumped all over Iowa, posting a 33-7 halftime lead before going in cruise control for the second half, defensively, in a 46-34 victory. Washington QB Mark Brunell was named the MVP at the time, but he only threw for 163 yards while also tossing an INT.
He did have two TD passes while running for two TDs, but Brunell only had 28 yards on the ground overall. We don’t like the turnover in a blowout game, and in truth, the Huskies got ahead early thanks to a punt-block return TD and a pick six. Brunell was just the beneficiary of the 5 turnovers the Washington defense forced.
Lewis ran for 128 yards on just 19 carries, for example, in a much more dominant display than anything Brunell did. There aren’t enough defensive statistics available or game-day accounts to suggest any one Huskies defender was the MVP, and we think Brunell’s running TDs were incidental, rather than a sign of his prowess.
So we give the trophy to Lewis, who was coming off an injury and clearly held the key to the Washington offense’s effectiveness. Sometimes, it’s not the guy who gets the score; it’s the guys who got the team in position to score in the first place.