We start looking at defensive MVPs this week on our yearly entry for Pac-12 Friday, as we examine the 1997 season of college football for the Conference of Champions and its Midwest brethren, the B1G. One team had a good shot at the mythical national championship this season, but the national really was looking in the wrong place this year, as we explained previously.
Enjoy this trip down Memory Lane …
1997 Pac-10 MVP: Ryan Leaf, QB, Washington State & Pat Tillman, LB, Arizona State (original); Cade McNown, QB, UCLA (revised)
Both UCLA and Washington State tied for the conference title with 7-1 league records, followed by Arizona State at 6-2. The voted MVPs were WSU quarterback Ryan Leaf (158.7 efficiency rating) and ASU linebacker Pat Tillman (3 interceptions). Both would make the NFL and become famous, for one reason or another. But was either player the true MVP?
We’re more inclined to look at UCLA QB Cade McNown, who topped Leaf in QB rating (166.0): This is a quantity versus quality argument, exemplified by the two QBs’ TD/INT ration. McNown had a 4/1 ratio, while Leaf was barely above 3/1, for example. Leaf had more yards; McNown averaged more yards per attempt. You get the idea here.
Admittedly, McNown had more support than Leaf did, and WSU did beat UCLA by 3 points in Pullman to kick off the regular season. But the Bruins played a tougher schedule and ended up higher in the national rankings at the end of the regular season. And then we have to remember that the Sun Devils handed the Cougars their only conference loss while fielding the conference’s best scoring defense.
In this odd triangulation, we’re going with McCown, as there are not enough defensive metrics to fairly evaluate Tillman, and McNown was just a much better player than Leaf was during the regular season, all things considered. Poor Ryan Leaf: He could never catch a break, could he? Not from the Rose Bowl officials (see below), not from the NFL, and not from us, either.
1997 B1G MVP: Tavian Banks, RB, Iowa & Charles Woodson, CB, Michigan (original); Joe Germaine, QB, Ohio State (revised)
The Michigan Wolverines went undefeated in conference play, followed by three teams with two losses apiece: Ohio State, Penn State, and Purdue. The voted MVPs were Iowa running back Tavian Banks (1,839 scrimmage yards and 19 TDs) and Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson (557 total yards with 4 TDs and 7 INTs). Woodson’s yardage came from 33 punt returns, 3 rushing attempts, and 11 receptions.
The Hawkeyes finished just 4-4 in conference, so we’re not taking Banks seriously here. Any offensive candidates worth touting? Ohio State QB Joe Germaine led the league in passing efficiency (151.9),while Penn State RB Curtis Enis topped the conference with 20 TDs—finishing third in both rushing and scrimmage yards (Banks was first in each).
Woodson did lead the B1G in INTs, but he gained only 7 yards on his returns. His impact on offense was sparing and more gimmicky than anything, and in the end, we’re more inclined to give this award to Germaine, who did not have a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver at his side. Meanwhile, Enis had the second-ranked passer to share plays. Michigan did field a great defense, but it wasn’t only because of Woodson.
1998 Rose Bowl MVP: Brian Griese, QB, Michigan (original, confirmed)
In typical fashion for this Michigan squad, the Rose Bowl was a squeaker with controversy, as the Wolverines beat the Cougars, 21-16. Michigan QB Brian Griese (251 passing yards, 3 TDs) won the MVP vote at the time, although the award could have also gone to Dick Burleson, the SEC official who claimed it took Leaf more than 2 seconds to snap and ground the ball at the end of the game.
This was a game where defense was at a minimum, as both teams gained almost a combined 800 yards: Leaf threw for 331 yards himself, although he did complete less than 50 percent of his passing attempts. In the end, we’re going to confirm Griese’s award, because without his two deep TD passes to wide receiver Tai Streets, the Wolverines would not have won the game—Burleson withstanding.