Even with the old guard having its way, college football saw a new order come of age during the 1978 season.
In the first year of the expanded Pac-10, three of the league's quarterbacks helped set nationwide standards. Two of them took part in an entertaining duel this week 32 years ago today, when Stanford came away with a decisive victory at Washington State.
The Cardinals' Steve Dils set several longstanding records during his club's 43-27 victory over Jack "The Throwin' Samoan" Thompson and the host Cougars. The fifth-year senior passed for 430 yards and generated 438 yards of total offense. Conference records at the time, they both stayed tops in the Stanford record book for another 20 decades.
Darrin Nelson carried 15 times for 95 yards as the Cards (4-3, 1-2) outlasted the hosts. Thompson, who held the NCAA Division I career passing record after graduating to NFL obscurity, tallied 274 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the afternoon. The two teams combined for a tidy 1,133 yards of total offense
Consider these teams' methodology for moving the football forward, and how it differed from the status quo of the time. Sure, LaVell Edwards may have already begun his pass-first tradition at BYU. But the bell cows of the era – Alabama, Penn State, Oklahoma and USC for example – were going dominate all underdogs while running their way to the top of the polls. And why wouldn't they? The biggest and strongest were in charge.
When considering what is over-inflated in today's era of college football, the amount of bowl games come to mind, as do players' season and career statistics. Thirty-plus years ago, however, perennial powers' rosters were stretched – and there was no limit. Until new NCAA rules took effect, teams were free to stockpile as much as talent as their team buses and sidelines would allow.
Only in 1978 did a mandated scholarship limit finally come into play. Division I teams were now limited to 95 players on scholarship. Just five years earlier, Tony Dorsett was one of 75 freshmen on the Pitt Panthers' roster.
Sports Illustrated used the Stanford victory as evidence for a "trend toward wide-open, try-anything offenses." Dils tallied 2.943 yards in the regular season, earning the title of NCAA passing champion for his 22.5 completions per-game. He led the nation with 22 touchdown passes. Thompson's 2,333 yards were fourth-most in the country. Rich Campbell of Cal enjoyed the first of three straight years with 2,000 or more yards.
Bill Walsh also enjoyed having the multi-talents of Nelson, who went over 1,000 yards on the ground and averaged 6.4 yards per-rush, fourth-best among Division I backs and near the standard set by Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims. Nelson was already Stanford's all-time leading rusher by the end of this, his sophomore season.
The Cardinal's victory over Wazzu stemmed a losing tide, coming on the heels of a one-point loss at UCLA and a three-point defeat against defending conference champ Washington. The win also began a streak of five wins over Stanford's final six games, culminating in the Bluebonnet Bowl triumph over No. 11 Georgia.
Oct. 17, 1987 - Stanford 44, San Diego State 40
You probably kept your attention squared on both baseball and football on this week 23 years ago, too.
From the television beamed history, the first indoor World Series game. But while the Twins hosted the Cardinals (and the Giants stayed home, having fallen to St. Louis days earlier in Game 7 of the NLCS), from the radio came drama unfolding down in San Diego.
As the final score suggests, Stanford's 44-40 victory over San Diego State hardly excited those of a defensive persuasion. Indeed, the Cardinal served up 536 passing yards and five touchdown passes this week in 1987 to the Aztecs' Todd Santos, who that year became the NCAA's all-time leading passer. The two teams – whose combined record coming into the night was 2-9 – combined for six turnovers and seven fumbles between them.
Still, Stanford held on, with Jeff James catching six passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns from redshirt freshman Brian Johnson, who was making just his second career start. The Cardinal won its second straight game following an 0-4 beginning to the season.
Stanford led 20-0 in the first half and never lost the lead. While a hip injury forced Brad Muster to miss the game, Jon Volpe gained 126 yards on 31 carries.
'"Never, at any time did I feel we had this game put away," James said. "Give their offense credit. They never gave up. But give our defense credit. They held when they had to."
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