Pac-10 teams of the decade

It's all been done here before, this talk of allegiance changes and conference realignment. The Pac-10 traces its roots back to 1918, the same year World War I ended. As a nation adjusted to a new world order, schools like Stanford returned to football, after playing only rugby. The current Bay Area, Oregon and Washington members of the conference formed the Pacific Coast Conference.

Idaho and Montana soon joined and spent 36 years in the fold. They left after 1958, as did Oregon State and Oregon. The Beavers and Ducks each went independent for five seasons before coming back by the time the PCC had already morphed into the Athletic Association of Western Universities (1965-1967), which begat the Pac-8, which grew by two teams to its current enrollment in 1978.

Got all that?

So as this West Coast outfit prepares for its ninth full decade together, it's time to honor the best teams – in addition to the top Stanford sides – in each decade.

1920 Cal
Bowl result: Beat Ohio State 28-0 in the Rose Bowl
Stanford result: The Bears were 38-0 winners
Key players: Brick Muller (E), Boots Erb (QB), Pesky Sprott (RB)
Credentials: Outscored opponents a tidy 510-14. All but two wins were shutouts. Muller, a 215-pound pass-catching end and defensive ace, was a superstar of the era. In pounding the Buckeyes, the "Wonder Team" of head coach Andy Smith put to rest doubts of the West Coast's seeming inferiority (sound familiar?). Cal went another five years without losing a game.
Best Stanford team of the decade: Pop Warner's 1926 Indians – who went 10-0 before tying Alabama in the Rose Bowl – might be The Farm's all-time best. Even a year after the departure of the legendary Ernie Nevers, Stanford blasted Cal 41-6, still its most lopsided win at Memorial Stadium.

1932 USC
Bowl result: Beat Pitt 35-0 in the Rose Bowl
Stanford result: Beat the Indians 13-0
Key players: Ford Palmer (E), Cotton Warburton (RB)
Credentials: Shut out everybody, except in a 9-6 win against Washington and a 27-7 stoppage of Cal. Against the Panthers in Pasadena, the Trojans – nicknamed the "Thundering Herd" – laid the wood on a Pitt team that had only allowed 25 points all year and had also surrendered points in only two games.
Best Stanford team of the decade: The Trojans' extended dominance sparked the "Vow Boys" of Stanford, who went 9-1 and beat SMU in the Rose Bowl in 1935. They vowed to never lose to USC as varsity players - and beat the Trojans all three times.

1940 Stanford
Bowl result: Beat Nebraska 21-13 in Rose Bowl
Key players: Frankie Albert (QB), Norm Standlee/Hugh Gallarneau (FB), Pete Kmetovic (RB), Chuck Taylor (OL).
Credentials: What they lacked in sheer domination (four wins were decided by eight points or less), the Tribe made up for in legacy. A team without a winning season in five years revolutionized the entire sport, thanks to Coach Clark Shaughnessy and his T-formation. Albert played his position unlike anyone before while setting a standard for decades to come. Alongside baseball free agency, the T-formation was one of sport's most important innovations of the 20th century. Best opponent of the decade: Cal emerged as a power after World War II under Pappy Waldorf. The 1949 Bears ended the season 10-0 and No. 3 in the nation, only to suffer the second of three straight Pasadena defeats.

1954 UCLA
Bowl result: None
Stanford result: While intercepting eight passes, the Bruins crushed the Indians 72-0
Key players: Bob Davenport (FB), Jim Salsbury (G), Primo Villanueva (QB)
Credentials: The Bruins outscored foes by a combined 367-40 en route to capturing the UPI national championship. What a shame conference rules prevented UCLA from making a return visit to the Rose Bowl. A 34-0 win over USC preceded a default Pasadena visit for the Trojans, who lost to AP title-winner Ohio State. UCLA dropped only three regular season games from 1952-55.
Best Stanford team of the decade: The 1951 Indians, with Olympic gold medalist Bob Mathias and quarterback Gary Kerkorian, went 9-1 in the regular season and reached the Rose Bowl.

John Ralston inherited a mediocre Stanford program at the end of 1962 with a coaching legend firmly on his side.
"It's important for you to succeed at Stanford," Oklahoma's Bud Wilkinson told Ralston at a coaching convention that year. "You can show the country that success in mind and body can be in the same person. You can show that you can be the best in academics and sports."
The progress was slow at first, with Stanford slogging through the first half of the '60s outside national relevance. But by decade's end, in an era of unrest and uncertainty, Ralston proved the coexistence of success on the gridiron and the classroom. That legacy of high expectations lives on, even if the gap between the Cardinal and the Pac-10's best in football has widened and shrunk throughout the years.

1962 USC
Bowl result: Beat Wisconsin 42-37 in Rose Bowl
Stanford result: The Trojans won handily, 39-14
Key players: Pete Beathard (QB), Hal Bedsole (WR), Ben Wilson (FB)
Credentials: After John McKay posted losing seasons in his first two years at 'SC, this team kept seven of ten regular season foes under 10 points. These Trojans were the only conference member to go through an entire slate undefeated/untied during the decade. They led 42-14 before the second-ranked Badgers made them sweat.
Best Stanford team of the decade: The 1969 edition was 7-2-1, with a one-point loss to Purdue, a two-point loss to USC on the final play and a tie against UCLA. Its offense averaged nearly 500 yards per game.

1972 USC
Bowl result: Beat Ohio State in Rose Bowl 42-17
Stanford result: The No. 15 Cardinal fell by a 30-21 margin, after which McKay called Stanford "the worst winners I've ever seen." He went on: "I'd like to beat them by 2,000 points."
Key players: A backfield of Sam Cunningham and Anthony Davis, together with a receiving corps of Edesel Garrison, Lynn Swann and Charlie Young.
Credentials: "When the bowls were finally over, the question was not whether USC was still No. 1, but who might be No. 4, because surely these talented flashy types of John McKay were No. 2 and No.3 as well." – Sports Illustrated, Jan. 8, 1973
Best Stanford team of the decade: Take your pick between either Rose Bowl champ: The 1970 edition, which reached No. 3 in the country and featured Heisman winner Jim Plunkett, or the suffocating 1971 club that gave up 11 points per game.

1984 Washington
Bowl result: Beat Oklahoma in Orange Bowl 28-17
Stanford result: The Huskies became No. 1 in the nation with a 37-15 pounding of the Cardinal that wasn't nearly that close
Key players: Ron Holmes (DL), Vestee Jackson (DB), Jacque Robinson (RB)
Credentials: Robinson led the league with 13 rushing touchdowns. The Huskies made 27 interceptions and allowed opponents to complete just 42 percent of their throws. They spent four weeks as the country's top-ranked club, longer than any of the five other teams who became No. 1 that year. But a loss at USC in November gave the Trojans the Pac-10 title.
Best Stanford team of the decade: The team that reached the program's lone bowl game of the era earns the nod. The 1986 Gator Bowl side started 4-0 before finishing 8-4. Brad Muster, Lester Archambeau, Jim Price and David Wyman all enjoyed productive NFL careers.

1991 Washington
Bowl result: Michigan, Desmond Howard and his Heisman pose lost 34-14.
Stanford result: The Huskies began the year winning at Stanford Stadium, 42-7
Key players: Mario Bailey (WR), Steve Emtman (DL), Dana Hall (CB), Billy Joe Hobert (QB)
Credentials: Its team speed broke odometers. Its defense broke bones and opponents' egos. Washington ran the option and threw long with ease. Aside from Cal, which lost 24-17, nobody made Washington look vulnerable from kickoff to final gun. The Huskies shared the national championship with Miami, a case where the coaches had it right over the writers.
Best Stanford team of the decade: Bill Walsh's first edition of his second tenure had no left tackle and endured frustrating lapses of offense. Flaws to be sure, but not nearly enough to hold the Cardinal back from a 10-3 mark and a No. 9 final national rank.

2004 USC
Bowl result: Beat Oklahoma 55-17 in Orange Bowl
Stanford result: After leading 28-17 at the half, the Card lost 31-28
Key players: Shaun Cody (DL), Reggie Bush (RB), Matt Leinart (QB)
Credentials: Leinart, Cody and linebacker Matt Grootegood were each consensus All-Americans. Leinart won the Heisman, Bush placed fifth in the voting. Pete Carroll's two previous teams each enjoyed dominant regular season stretches, but this group manhandled the previously invincible Sooners, earning to conference's lone BCS crown to date.
Best Stanford team of the decade: The star-crossed 2001 team. With second and third-stringers starting, the 9-2 Cardinal had a No. 11 national ranking at regular season's end. They finished higher than Georgia, Michigan and Virginia Tech in the BCS standings.

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