Most college football fans think that the Pac 12 Conference is rather weak these days, and they may be right. They have been a little down in the last couple of years, but there have been times when the teams on the west coast are as good as anybody. About three years ago, the Pac 12 Conference had more first round NFL draft picks than anyone and they have 2 less teams than the SEC, Big 10 and the ACC.
2017 was not a particularly good football season for the Pac 12, but they will bounce back.
Going back in time, the 1988 season was pretty good out west. They were only the Pac 10 back then, before they added the Utes of Utah and the Buffaloes of Colorado. Their two best teams were USC and UCLA who both finished in the top 10. Washington State, coached by future Miami Hurricane coach Dennis Erickson also finished in the top 20.
Most of the teams had good quarterbacks as well. It may have been the year of the quarterback in the Pac 10 that season.
In 1988, the USC Bruins coached by Larry Smith and led by senior quarterback Rodney Peete, won the conference championship. They did lose to the Michigan Wolverines in a rare Rose Bowl win for Bo Schembechler, 14-22. But, the Trojans finished the season ranked 7th with their only losses coming to national champion Notre Dame and Michigan.
Peete was a highly recruited quarterback out of Shawnee Mission South High School in Overland
Park, Kansas. But, he only played there his senior season after moving from Tucson, Arizona where he had been a two sport star at Sahuaro High School. He moved to the Kansas City area because his father, Willie Pete, was a running backs coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Rodney Peete was drafted three different times by Major League Baseball, once while he was a senior in high school. Plus, again when he was a star third baseman for the USC Trojans baseball team. He could have tried his hand at professional baseball at any time, but he chose football. As a quarterback, Peete played some as a true freshman and then started 3 seasons for the Trojans. During his senior season, Peete finished 2nd in the Heisman voting behind the great Barry Sanders who had a phenomenal season at Oklahoma State. He also won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.
With the choices of MLB and the NFL, Peete chose the NFL and played for 16 seasons.
These weren’t the best of times at USC, but they finished ranked 7th in the AP Poll.
A lot of fuss was made over Timm Rosenbach of Washington State during his junior season and he did finish 7th in the Heisman voting that year. The Pac 10 placed 3 quarterbacks in the top 10 of the trophy voting that season.
Like Rodney Peete, Rosenbach grew up the son of a football coach. Washington State hired his dad to join their staff when Rosenbach was going into his junior season of high school football. Timm Rosenbach was a good enough athlete to play running back as a junior in high school and he moved to quarterback as a senior. He wasn’t heavily recruited and he stayed home in Pullman to play for the Cougars.
He played some as a freshman, then took over as the starter in 1987. It wasn’t a good season for either Rosenbach, or his Cougars and coach Erickson as they finished with an underwhelming 3-7 record. 1988 was a different matter and Rosenbach threw for over 3,000 yards while leading Washington
State to a nice 9-3 record.
Leaving before the senior season was not as common back in these days as it is today, but it was still done and Rosenbach didn’t declare for the draft. But, he was taken in the supplemental draft by the Cardinals. If not for injury, Timm Rosenbach may be a household name, but alas he was out of the NFL just after he was coming into his own.
Across the state from Rosenbach and Washington State, Cary Conklin was quarterbacking at rival Washington. These were the years of Washington Husky coaching legend, Don James. However, the Huskies didn’t have a great year in 1988.
Washington has produced about as many NFL quarterbacks as any including Warren Moon, Mark Brunell, Steve Pelluer, Hugh Millen and the Huard brothers. Cary Conklin played right between Chris Chandler and Brunell.
Conklin didn’t have the greatest of seasons in 1988 just like the overall team. But, the Huskies had a couple of down seasons. He improved in 1989 and then was a 4th round pick of the Washington Redskins where he was a back up and helped the Skins win a Super Bowl.
A Pac 10 quarterback that was heavily recruited was Oregon State’s Erik Wilhelm. The Beavers were horrid, but they attracted the talents of Wilhelm. Because they were having a hard time with wins, Wilhelm moved into the starting lineup pretty quickly and the Beavers threw the ball around a lot for the time period. Wilhelm went on to lead the Pac 10 in passing in 1987 and 1988 even with so much talent at the other schools. The Beavers were pretty bad all through his time there, but in 1988 Wilhelm himself was pretty impressive. The Beavers still finished with a poor 4-6-1 record, but Wilhelm was good. During his time as quarterback in Corvallis, he threw for 9,393 career yards. Other than the Beavers record, the only bad thing were the interceptions with Wilhelm throwing for a record 61.
Wilhelm was 6-3, 215 and an interesting prospect for NFL scouts and he was drafted in the 3rd round by the Cincinnati Bengals. With the Bengals, he was a crucial back up for star Boomer Esiason. After a few years with the Bengals, Wilhelm bounced around the league going from the Bengals to the Cardinals and back to the Bengals. From there, he went to the Jets and back to the Bengals. Not a bad job, being a back up quarterback. Good pay and a healthier body not taking beatings from 300 pound defensive linemen. After 9 seasons in the NFL, Wilhelm played 3 years of Arena football.
Another star throwing passes all over the gridiron in the conference in 1988 was Troy Taylor of
California. Taylor was the 6-4, 200 kind of player that coaches covet and he led his high school team at Rancho Cordova to a 14-0 record and a championship. At Cal, he became a 4 year starter and threw for a school record 8,126 yards and 51 touchdowns. Of course, since the days of Troy Taylor the Cal Bears have had such quarterbacks as Aaron Rodgers and Jared Goff so any of his records have long since been broken.
The Golden Bears were not having any of their better seasons while Taylor was there, but he did improve every season. He was a junior in 1988 and leaving early for the NFL wasn’t all that common. After his senior season, he was a 4th round draft pick by the New York Jets. NFL success was not for Troy Taylor, but he returned to the game as a coach and is currently the offensive coordinator for the Utes of Utah.
The youngster of the group was sophomore Bill Musgrave of Oregon. Musgrave was a star athlete from Grand Junction, Colorado. He was a star safety as a sophomore and moved to quarterback during his junior year of high school. Throwing 30 touchdown passes as a senior gained Musgrave attention of the colleges and he signed with the Oregon Ducks. This was back in the day when the Ducks had years of futility behind them and not like the Ducks of today. Under Rich Brooks, the Oregon Ducks went 6-6 in 1988 and were starting to turn things around.
Musgrave led the Ducks to a 6-1 record in 1988 until he went down with a broken collar bone. Musgrave recovered to throw for well over 3,000 yards in 1989 and he broke all the Oregon career passing records such as 8,343 yards passing and 60 passing touchdowns. It would take future Heisman winner Marcus Mariota to come along and break these records.
Musgrave was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the 4th round but he was cut. He signed with the 49ers and played there for 4 seasons before playing for the Broncos for a couple of seasons and then on to the Colts. For the past 20 years, Musgrave has been coaching in the NFL.
From Schaumburg, Illinois, the Arizona State Sun Devils recruited a good quarterback named Paul Justin. During his sophomore season of 1988, Justin moved into the starting lineup about 6 games in. Justin’s best season came in 1989 during his junior season when he threw for over 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Sun Devils also went 6-4-1 that season.
After his senior season, Justin was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 7th round but he did not make the team. He was out of football, before playing some Arena football. Surprisingly, Justin got back into the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts, and he played 7 years in the league. After so many early struggles, the 6-4, 215 Paul Justin made something of a career out of football.
The best quarterback in the Pac 10 of all was UCLA’s Troy Aikman. Raised in Oklahoma, Aikman was recruited by the Oklahoma Sooners. Like most coaches, they twisted the truth around a little and they told him that they would change their offense for him. Aikman was an incredible athlete and he
was more than capable of running the wishbone offense, but it was really not the best fit for his skills. Aikman moved into the starting role running the bone in 1985, but broke his leg against Miami and was lost. He was replaced by Jamelle Holieway and the Sooners went on to win the national championship. Holieway was an option quarterback and far better at running the wishbone than Aikman and he saw the writing on the wall. He transferred to UCLA and had to sit out a season. The Bruins were rewarded with back to back 10-2 seasons with Aikman under center. He threw for over 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns and then over 2,700 yards and 24 touchdowns.
In the 1989 NFL Draft, Troy Aikman was the very first player selected by the Dallas Cowboys and after some early struggles, the Cowboys won 3 Super Bowls with Aikman at quarterback. He has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and he’s one of the better quarterbacks to ever play the game with his consistency.
The year was 1988 and 8 out of 10 starting quarterbacks in the Pac 10 at least played some in the NFL. Talent seems to shift around from time to time, but the west was where it was at in 1988 as far as quarterbacks go.