The top playoff contender from the Pac-12 in recent seasons has been Washington. The Huskies have risen to the top of the conference under head coach Chris Petersen with two Pac-12 titles and one appearance in the College Football Playoff, but the quest to win the school’s first national championship in football since earning a split title in 1991 continues as we approach the 2019 season.
Washington took home the coaches poll’s top spot for the 1991 season after polishing off a 12-0 record with a victory over No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The run to the split national championship was the first for head coach Don James, who won multiple coaching awards for the success of the 1991 season to pave his path to the College Football Hall of Fame. The Huskies also featured All-Americans Steve Emtman (who also won the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy), Mario Bailey, Dave Hoffman and Lincoln Kennedy. Washington’s defense remains one of the best college football has seen in the modern era.
Expectations were high for Washington in 1991 after coming off a 10-2 season the year before. Washington solidified their hype as a national title contender with a second-half rally on the road against No. 9 Nebraska and three straight blowouts before a big road win at No. 7 California in mid-October. Aside from a defensive battle on the road against USC in November, there was little standing in the way of Washington and a national championship claim. Even Big Ten champion Michigan was little match for the Huskies, who took the Rose Bowl with a 34-14 victory.
Washington fans continue to dream of seeing their Huskies experience similar feats as the program looks to defend their Pac-12 crown this fall. Let’s take a snapshot of the last time Washington won the national title, nearly three decades ago.
Last National Title Season: 1991 (28 years and counting)
Who was President?
George H. Bush was in the second half of his presidency when Washington was winning it all in 1991. The elder Bush was in the White House when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Dan Quayle was still a year away from making his “Murphy Brown” speech, and we didn’t know he was unaware how “potato” is spelled.
In related news, current President Donald Trump filed for the first of his six bankruptcy cases in 1991 with the Trump Taj Mahal.
What was on TV?
The top-rated TV programs of 1991 included NBC’s “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” and “Wings.” Other shows people were tuning into at the time included “Roseanne,” “Murphy Brown,” and newcomer “Home Improvement.”
Perhaps one of the more notable developments in television in 1991 was the return of Seinfeld to NBC. After five initial trial episodes from 1989 through 1990, Seinfeld became a mainstay in the NBC lineup beginning in 1991 with a 12-episode order.
What movies were hot?
There were some true masterpieces released at the box office in 1991, including the animated Disney adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” But nobody could overtake Arnold Schwarzenegger with the blockbuster release of “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” It may be the movie that really first alerted us to the dangers of technology thinking for itself and the term “liquid metal.”
How many more Terminator movies to come before Washington wins it all again?
We should also note that we were first introduced to the legendary Rufio in 1991 as well.
Who was on the cover of NCAA Football?
Nobody, because it didn’t exist yet.
Washington’s last national title claim was staked two years before the introduction of “Bill Walsh College Football,” which eventually evolved to be the “NCAA Football” franchise of games from EA Sports. Even the long-running Madden NFL franchise was still very early in its beginnings in 1991, with the release of John Madden Football II on the PC and John Madden Football ’92 on the SEGA Genesis.
There was, however, “All-American College Football,” a DOS college football simulator.
A blue hedgehog also became the mascot for the SEGA Genesis in 1991. Sonic the Hedgehog got a jump on the competition but Nintendo released the Super NES just before the 1991 college football season started, with Super Mario World included.
What else happened in 1991?
One of the greatest World Series came to a wild ending with the Minnesota Twins topping the Atlanta Braves with a 1-0 victory in Game 7. The Twins won Games 6 and 7 at home in extra innings to capture their most recent World Series championship.
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls topped Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1991, bringing an end to the Showtime Lakers era and ushering in the Jordan Reign in the NBA. The summer after Washington’s national championship run would see Jordan and Johnson team up at the Olympics as members of the United States’s Dream Team.
At the end of the 1991 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills lost their second straight Super Bowl with a loss to the Washington Redskins (also the most recent title won by that Washington).
Washington defeated him in the Rose Bowl, but Michigan’s Desmond Howard won the Heisman Trophy in the 1991 season.
The 1991 season was also the first season the Big East sponsored football, although official standings would begin a year later. Inaugural conference members included Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia. Nebraska won the Big Eight. Texas A&M won the Southwest Conference. The Pac-12 was still the Pac-10.
A lot has changed in college football since 1991, although Clemson did win the ACC!
As for current head coach Petersen, he was a wide receivers coach at UC Davis. Alabama head coach Nick Saban was in his first year as a defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (coached by Bill Belichick!), and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was suiting up to play wide receiver for Alabama.
Washington remains the Pac-12’s most recent College Football Playoff team
There have been just two teams from the Pac-12 to reach the College Football Playoff. Oregon reached the national championship game in the inaugural season of the playoff format, but only Washington has been able to manage a single invitation to the playoff since. The Huskies were overpowered by Alabama in the Peach Bowl in 2016, with the Crimson Tide later being defeated by Clemson in the national championship game. Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 has struggled to get its champion into the playoff at the end of the year largely due to the conference beating itself up at the worst possible times.
Washington’s bid for a possible playoff spot last year were given a hard speed bump right out of the gates with a neutral site loss to Auburn. Although the Huskies went on to win the Pac-12, a trip to the Rose Bowl was all that was ever in the cards for the Huskies, who were taken down by Big Ten champion Ohio State last January. Coming into the 2019 season, Washington figures to face some stiff competition once again from within the division as Oregon is being viewed as a team on the rise and the Huskies have some roster turnover in place.