Memorable Upsets of the Pacific

As the Race for the Roses begins to bloom and each and every conference game takes on added significance, The Bootleg's Mark DeVaughn recalls some of the more memorable upsets that have sent shockwaves through the "Best Coast" over the years. The "unlikely" has often become reality and as we all know, reality sometimes bites.

Memorable Upsets of the Pacific


For decades, the term "unlikely" frequently has defined football finishes in the Pacific-10 conference. The fact that we never "know" what will happen in a given game always adds to the sheer intensity that is college football on the Best Coast.


Back when the running game dominated how most college teams moved the ball, the pass became the left coast squads' preferred method of movement. The traditional gridiron powers exist in sleepy college hollows, but in most cases, the West Coast's establishment shares metro areas with NFL franchises. And who would have thought that a failed NFL coach, upon arrival at a school known as "Tailback U.", would produce two national titles and a pair of gun-slinging Heisman Trophy quarterbacks?


It is the ever-present element of surprise that forms the common ground here, prompting an impromptu  profile of the some of the biggest upsets involving Pac-10 teams in recent memory. The outcome of the Cardinal's most recent visit to the L.A. Coliseum, together of course with the famous Rose Bowl wins on New Year's of 1971 and 1972, sit right alongside the five very "unlikely" outcomes listed here:


Who: Arizona State 19, Nebraska 0

When: September 21. 1996

Why It's On The List: It put to rest in startling fashion a 26-game winning streak of the two-time defending national champion Cornhuskers, who hadn't lost a regular-season game in four years. The Solar Satans recorded three safeties in front of a sellout home crowd that had every right to tear down both goalposts during the postgame party.


Only on scattered cable systems across the country could TV viewers see the most significant win of ASU's 11-0 regular season of ‘96. What much of the country missed was an outcome that reduced Husker tailback Ahman Green to tears by game's end. QB Jake "The Snake"  Plummer led ASU on an 80-yard touchdown drive to start the game, the only points the Pat Tillman and Derrick Rodgers-led defense would need. The more than 30,000 Nebraska fans in attendance scurried back to Lincoln with their husks between their corns.


Years later, as his NFL career wound down, Plummer still gloated over the stunning shutout. He joked that the double-sided ‘N' logo on the Huskers' helmet stood for "Nineteen" and "Nothing." Wouldn't recommend any hard-drinkin' in Lincoln, Jake.


Who: Oregon 10, Arizona 9

When: October 29, 1994

Why It's On The List: Consider the game's history-swinging impact - consider what the Quackers were before – and have turned into since. By holding No. 11 Arizona to 39 yards and two first downs in the second half, Oregon became the front-runner in a Rose Bowl race it eventual won. But not since their most recent previous conference title to date (1957) had the Ducks previously entered November tops in league play.


Sports Illustrated had given defending Fiesta Bowl champion Arizona (6-1) a preseason No. 1 ranking (and a wonderful jinx!). The Cats led 9-3 midway through the fourth quarter. Then Danny O'Neill lofted a 3rd &15 pass to the corner of the end zone for tight end Josh Wilcox, who dragged both feet in bounds to secure the 28-yard touchdown. Oregon won out, reached the Rose Bowl, soon joined forces with Phil Knight and Nike, and never looked back. Four bowls in the previous 50 years have given way to just two missed postseasons since.


Who: Cal 17, Stanford 11

When: Nov. 22, 1986

Why It's On The List: A lesson to every Stanford team with a hint of overconfidence. A Gator Bowl invitation in hand, the Cardinal (7-2) surrendered the Axe to a 1-9 Cal team every bit as terrible as its record indicated. The lasting images – a sobbing Joe Kapp (aka "The Anti-Card") being carried off the Memorial Stadium field, Stanford Hall of Famer Dave Wyman kicking the pylon in disgust as Mike Ford scored on an end-around - tell enough of the story.


Kapp coached his last game after being fired just days before. The Bears also played a back-up quarterback (Kevin Brown), who was only under center because USC had pulverized Bear quarterback Troy Taylor's jaw a week earlier. Stanford entered the contest as a 17-point favorite. The visiting Cardinal took the opening kickoff right down the field, only to shank on a 21-yard field goal attempt. Bad omen.


The inspired Bears never trailed, sacking sore-armed senior quarterback John Paye seven times. The Cardinal never even crossed the goal line until five minutes remained in the final quarter.


Who: Oregon State 21, Washington 20

When: October 19. 1985

Why It's On The List: Upsets of Washington just didn't happen back in the 80s. The Huskies had gone to two Rose Bowls and an Orange Bowl between 1980 and 1984. Their collective opponents had won all of six games during that same span. "The Beavers play football the way Barney Fife plays deputy," wrote one Seattle newspaper columnist on game day.


The 37-point favorite Huskies were nursing a 20-14 in the closing minutes when they punted from near their own goal line.


Up the middle burst OSU's Andre Todd, who smothered the boot and sent it scooting toward the end zone. Defensive back LaVance Northington corralled the pigskin for the touchdown.


The beautiful Beavs (2-4) then converted on the extra point to take the improbable lead.


Quarterback Hugh Millen had helped Washington (4-2) to four straight victories, but the Mutts were muzzled that day. Oregon State players carried new coach Dave Kragthorpe off the field. Not until the Pac-10 came down with sanctions in the early 1990s did UW head coach Don James experience this humbling a defeat.


Who: UCLA 23, Ohio State 10

When: Jan. 1. 1976

Why It's On The List: For six straight weeks leading up to this Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes (11-0) had been the nation's No. 1 team. Archie Griffin had won his second-straight Heisman. UCLA (8-2-1) had enjoyed a storybook season under Dick Vermeil, but the Bruins had already lost 41-20 to the Bucks in September. And Ohio State still lost.


UCLA held firm in the first half while gaining only 39 total yards. The Buckeyes led 3-0 at halftime, but proceeded to be swallowed whole in the final two quarters. The Bruins concocted a stunning reversal, outgaining their favored Big 10 foes 414-298 in total yards.


Ever the good sportsman, legendary curmudgeon Woody Hayes ordered his team not to speak to reporters after the game. Vermeil had the last word with those who thought California was a more deserving Pac-10 rep for the Rose Bowl. "I would like to say to some Northern California writers who didn't think we belonged in this game," he said, "that they can go to hell."

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