On this edition of Pac-12 Friday, we find ourselves looking at a year of a split national title scenario involving a team from the Conference of Champions. That makes this week’s analysis of league MVPs from both the Pac-10 and the B1G even more exciting, right? Right, and quite complicated, too, as we confirmed none of the original winners (spoiler!)
On with the show … there’s not a moment to lose.
1991 Pac-10 MVP: Mario Bailey, WR, Washington (original); Russell White, RB, California (revised)
The Washington Huskies went 8-0 in league play to distant themselves from California, Stanford, and UCLA—all which posted 6-2 conference records. Huskies wide receiver Mario Bailey took home MVP vote honors as he caught 17 touchdown passes while accumulating 1,037 receiving yards, too. His team was clearly the best, reaching No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, so does he have any competitors here?
Well, the best quarterback in the Pac-10 was Washington’s Billy Joe Hobert, who topped his peers in QB rating (146.1) and TD passes (22). And Stanford running back Tommy Vardell led the league in rushing yards (1,188), scrimmage yards (1,426), and scrimmage TDs (22), too. That’s some serious competition. But the Huskies also had RB Beano Bryant (1,035 scrimmage yards and 8 TDs).
Yet the Cardinal fielded QB Steve Stenstrom (141.6 rating, 15 TDs) and RB Glyn MIlburn (1,121 scrimmage yards). Both offenses were loaded, so what about the Golden Bears or the Bruins? UCLA had its own set of triplets, but Cal only had a dynamic duo: QB Mike Pawlawski (141.1 rating) and RB Russell White (1,316 scrimmage yards and 16 TDs). The Golden Bears finished No. 8 in the country, by the way.
Cal lost to Washington by just 7 points on the road, and with the Top 10 finish, the Golden Bears were carried by White, for the most part. He was the big star, while Pawlawski and the WR corps just benefitting from the association. We’re going with White here for the league MVP honors; by the way, he is the nephew of former USC star and Heisman winner Charles White.
1991 B1G MVP: Desmond Howard, WR, Michigan (original); Vaughn Dunbar, RB, Indiana (revised)
The Michigan Wolverines posted an 8-0 record to win the conference title, with only the Iowa Hawkeyes (7-1) coming within 3 games of the top spot. That limits our pool of candidates here, and Michigan WR Desmond Howard won the MVP honors at the time, as well as the Heisman Trophy, actually. He only gained 1,165 yards from scrimmage, but he scored 23 TDs—including two on punt/kick returns.
Interestingly enough, Howard only finished sixth in the conference for scrimmage yards, and he only totaled 694 return yards—which means he still didn’t have more total yards than Indiana Hoosiers RB Vaughn Dunbar (2,068 scrimmage yards). Heck, Howard didn’t even gain 1,000 yards receiving, despite catching 19 TD passes. It’s quite a strange statistic line, in truth, and one we do not like at all.
Michigan QB Elvis Grbac (161.7 rating) topped the conference with 25 TD passes, so it’s like all he did was look for Howard. RB Ricky Powers also ran for 1,197 yards for the Wolverines, so it just seems like Howard was the beneficiary of the situation, rather than the engine that made the offense work so well.
So, we actually like Dunbar a lot more for value, as Indiana went 5-3 in conference and won a bowl game, mostly on his shoulders. Michigan was clearly loaded, and Howard’s success was circumstantial, in essence. It’s going to be an unpopular decision, but Dunbar is our pick for the real MVP here, as the Hoosiers’ best receiver had over 300 yards less receiving than Howard did, without a top QB.
1992 Rose Bowl MVP: Billy Joe Hobert, QB, Washington & Steve Emtman, DT, Washington (original, tie); Donald Jones, LB, Washington (revised)
A matchup between the No. 2 and No. 4 teams turned into a blowout as a second-half surge by the Huskies blew open a close game. With the 34-14 victory, Washington claimed part of the MNC, while Michigan went home from Southern California licking its wounds once again. There was a tie for the MVP vote between Hobert and Huskies defensive tackle Steve Emtman.
Washington held Howard to just one reception for 35 yards, and Bailey even mocked Howard’s Heisman win when he scored a TD to put the Huskies up 34-7 in the fourth quarter. Michigan gained just 205 total yards—including just 94 through the first three quarters before the second stringers let the Wolverines score in the fourth.
Here’s the deal: Hobert threw two TDs and ran for one, but his backup—Mark Brunell, last year’s voted Rose Bowl MVP—went 7-for-8 with 89 yards and a TD, too. It seems like anyone could have played QB against the Michigan defense in this one. What about Emtman? Well, defensive stats aren’t readily available, but he was the leader of the defense—and the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
But Grbac—the nation’s top-rated QB during the regular season—was sacked three times by Washington linebacker Donald Jones in this game. We’re going with Jones, surprisingly, because we can.