As Pac-12 Friday moves forward, we examine the 1996 season of college football for the Conference of Champions and its Midwest brethren, the B1G. Both conferences had a good shot at the mythical national championship this season, and the Rose Bowl was perhaps the biggest game of the postseason exhibition charade in the sport.
Take a look back at the good times from this season right now …
1996 Pac-10 MVP: Jake Plummer, QB, Arizona State (original); Corey Dillon, RB, Washington (revised)
The Arizona State Sun Devils came out of nowhere, really, to go undefeated through the entire regular season, claiming the conference title, and their quarterback, Jake Plummer, took home the MVP vote honors at the time. The Washington Huskies, with a 7-1 conference record, were the only team within shouting distance of ASU, so the MVP candidate pool will be small.
Plummer didn’t actually lead the conference in any major category, and he finished second in QB rating (144.8). Meanwhile, Washington running back Corey Dillon was pretty dominant, leading the conference in rushing yards (1,555), scrimmage yards (1,828), and scrimmage touchdowns (23). We know Plummer had a lot of intangibles, but he still finished almost 800 yards behind the league leader in total yards.
The Sun Devils had the best scoring defense in the conference, famously even shutting out the two-time defending national champions from Nebraska. The two teams played each other in the season opener, with ASU winning at home, 45-42. Overall, we like Dillon more for this award than Plummer, as he did more for his team than Plummer did for his, which is hard to believe—but it is true.
1996 B1G MVP: Orlando Pace, OL, Ohio State (original); D’Wayne Bates, WR, Northwestern (revised)
Northwestern and Ohio State tied with 7-1 records for the league championship, and for the second season in a row, they did not play each other. Go figure! Yet Iowa and Penn State also finished with 6-2 records, so it was a very close conference race. Buckeyes offensive lineman Orlando Pace was the voted MVP, and it’s hard to evaluate that choice without statistics, so we have to choose anew.
The biggest issue is that no QB separated himself from the pack, and the overwhelming-clear best player—Wisconsin RB Ron Dayne—played for a team that finished under .500 in conference play. That creates the opening, of course, for someone like Pace to earn this award, as he did at the time. But we do see the reality that one player won the Triple Crown for his position: NU wide receiver D’Wayne Bates.
With 75 receptions for 1,196 yards and 12 TDs, Bates topped the conference in every receiving category, and we’re going to go with that measurable success for our award nod here. Northwestern, as the surprise champs from the prior year, faced a lot more pressure in 1996 to repeat, and the Wildcats delivered on the back on this star player.
1997 Rose Bowl MVP: Joe Germaine, QB, Ohio State (original); Andy Katzenmoyer, LB, Ohio State (revised)
What a doozy this one was! Ohio State prevented Arizona State from winning the MNC with a last-second, 20-17 victory in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes got the berth, since the Wildcats had been the year before, and Ohio State made the most of its opportunity, obviously. Buckeyes QB Joe Germaine was the voted MVP, for leading the go-ahead scoring drive in the final minutes and seconds of the game.
But Germaine completed just 9 passes all game, splitting playing time with Stanley Jackson, so we’re not fans of the MVP pick. Instead, we like RB Pepe Pearson, who ran for 111 yards on just 13 carries, more on a day when the whole Ohio State offense compiled just 323 yards. Pearson also added a 4-yard reception, and although he didn’t score, he certainly moved the chains more than any other OSU player.
The Buckeyes defense did do a number on Plummer and the ASU offense, holding them to just 3.6 yards per play and a total of just 276 yards. And that leads us to Ohio State linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer: He intercepted Plummer and had 3 sacks on the day. Of his 8 total tackles, a whopping 5 of them were for losses. Let that sink in: He was the real MVP here for the Buckeyes, and he was just a freshman.