As the Huskies get set for a clash with the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl on Monday January 1st, I thought it might be fun to revisit the times Washington has made a New Year’s Six bowl game (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Cotton, Peach) and how their season went up to that point and afterwards. Let’s start with the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl.
1924 Rose Bowl
In 1924, the Rose Bowl committee passed on PCC Champ Cal in favor of the Huskies, despite Cal handing the Huskies their only loss. Being the one on the West side of the country, and therefore the “host”, the Huskies chose Navy as their opponent. The Midshipmen came into the Rose Bowl with a record of 5-1-2, with ties against Army and Princeton and a loss to Penn State their only blemishes on the record. Both teams arrived in Pasadena in mid-December, practicing until game time on January 1st. A heavy rain created wet and muddy conditions, but then UW coach Enoch Bagshaw projected confidence in his group, stating that “wet weather will not bother us”. Most pundits predicted a Washington victory because of Washington’s superior size up front.
The game kicked off at 2:16 PM on January 1st, and as a result of the aforementioned rain, running the ball was difficult, so (surprisingly), Navy elected to come up throwing to start the game, and to everyone’s surprise, Navy dominated the game, despite the final score being tied 14-14. The Midshipmen outgained the Huskies 362-202, and went 16-20 passing the ball for 175 yards. The Huskies would get another shot in the Rose Bowl 2 years later in 1926.
1926 Rose Bowl
In 1926, Washington returned to the Rose Bowl, this time going up against Alabama. Coached by Wallace Wade, whose name is on the stadium at Duke, the Tide came into this game with a 9-0 record. Washington came into the game with a 10-0-1 record. After shutting out the Tide in the first half, Alabama roared back, scoring 20 unanswered points in the third quarter. They would hold on to win 20-19, ensuring the upset, and also ensuring Southern football dominance for the next few generations, in a game dubbed “The Game that Changed the South”.
1937 Rose Bowl
Under James Phelan, the Dawgs returned to Pasadena in 1937. Their opponent in this Rose Bowl would be the mighty Pittsburgh Panthers. Both Pitt and Washington came in with identical records (7-1-1). For Washington, they went on a tear after an opening loss against Minnesota, only tying Stanford on their way to an easy PCC title. For Pitt, they were led by head coach Jock Sutherland and lost to the Duquesne Dukes, and tied Fordham in a game played in the Polo Grounds in New York. It was a top five clash, as Pitt was ranked third, and the Huskies were ranked fifth. Unfortunately for Phelan and his Huskies, it ultimately resulted in a 21-0 shutout by Pitt, and the Huskies wouldn’t return to the Rose Bowl until 1944.
1944 Rose Bowl
I’ve covered the ‘44 season for the Huskies here before, but I will say it again: wartime football was weird. Aside from Iowa Pre-Flight almost winning a national title, this is probably the weirdest game of the ‘43-’44 season. Oddsmakers favored the Huskies by 2 scores, but the Huskies hadn’t played a game since October 30th, and played no conference games. Their manpower had also been severely depleted because a dozen members of the team had been drafted to fight in WW2. UW was ultimately left with only 28 players. USC on the other hand was 7-2, had played a conference schedule and was 4-0 in those conference games. The game was a shutout, with USC winning 29-0, and their backup, Jim Hardy, throwing 3 touchdowns. The Huskies then entered a nearly 15 year Rose Bowl drought. That all changed in 1960.
1960 Rose Bowl
Led by quarterback Bob Schloredt (who was blind in his left eye) and running back/kicker George Fleming, the Huskies posted a record of 9-1 in their first season following the dissolution of the Pacific Coast Conference, winning the Athletic Association of Western Universities title over UCLA and USC. Wisconsin went 7-3 and won the Big Ten. Despite the record disparity, Wisconsin was favored by 6 and a half points. That was a misfire by oddsmakers, as Washington absolutely smoked the Badgers 44-8. Bob Schloredt and George Fleming both were named MVP, and the national media learned their lesson and never underestimated Washington ever again.
1961 Rose Bowl
Fooled you! They did that exact same thing the next season, as their opponent (Minnesota) was ranked #1 in the final AP poll before the bowl games. The Golden Gophers had an All American at quarterback in Sandy Stephens, but that didn’t matter, as he went 2-10 for 21 yards and 3 picks. Bob Schloredt was only 2-4 for 16 yards, but he chipped in 68 yards on 5 carries as the Huskies beat the Gophers 17-7. This also left the door open for the Helms Athletic Foundation to award the Huskies the National Champion, as Jim Owens and his Dawgs literally beat the odds for the second straight year. Owens made his case to the Seattle Times after the game, stating “They beat the national champions. When you beat the champion, what does that make you”?
1964 Rose Bowl
The 50th playing of the Granddaddy of Them All was between the Huskies and the Illinois Fighting Illini. The Dawgs came in with a record of 6-4, with 3 straight losses to open the season, followed by 5 straight wins, and a loss to UCLA in the Coliseum. They were led by halfback Dave Kopay who rushed for 319 yards and 4 touchdowns that season. The Illini were led by future Hall of Famer Dick Butkus on defense, and running back Jim Grabowski and quarterback Mike Taliaferro on offense, who paced the team with 450 total pass yards. They finished with a 7-1-1 regular season record and as Big Ten champ, met the Huskies in the Rose Bowl.
Led by Illini defender George Donnelly’s 2 interceptions, and Butkus’ interception and fumble recovery, the Illini emerged victorious. 17-7. This started an NY6 drought that lasted 14 years for the Huskies.
1978 Rose Bowl
To quote Revenge of The Sith, this is where the fun begins! After 14 years, a coaching change (Jim Owens gave way to Don James), and 3 years of building, the Huskies were back in Pasadena. Led by quarterback Warren Moon, running back Joe Steele and receiver Spider Gaines, the Huskies went on a tear after losing 3 of their first 4 games with their only loss in conference coming against UCLA. Warren Moon passed for 1584 yards, 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, while running for 266 yards and 6 more touchdowns. Spider Gaines was his favorite target, hauling in 30 catches for 660 yards and 6 scores. Joe Steele ran for 865 yards, and 10 touchdowns, and caught 25 balls for 210 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Michigan was considered a favorite for the National Championship, until a loss to Minnesota dropped them to to number 6. Aside from that, they ran through their conference schedule, finishing with a 7-1 record. As a result, Michigan was favored by 2 touchdowns going into the Rose Bowl.
Those hopes for a victory were swiftly ended by the Huskies as they jumped out to a 17-0 lead by halftime. Warren Moon chipped in 2 touchdowns on the ground and an extra one through the air, as the Huskies pulled off the upset, winning 27-20. This began a run of 6 Rose Bowl appearances in James’ tenure at Washington, the next being in 1981.
1981 Rose Bowl
Michigan coach Bo Schembechler’s bowl record was the subject of much mockery before this game. It was deserved, as before this one, Schembechler had lost 7 bowl games including 5 Rose Bowls. Both teams came into the game with identical records, at 9-3. Washington was led by quarterback Tom Flick and a great running game, led by Kyle Stevens and Toussaint Tyler. However, in this game, Schembechler would get his revenge and finally beat the Huskies, by shutting them down in the second half. The Wolverines pulled away and finally won in Pasadena, 23-6.
1982 Rose Bowl
The Dawgs didn’t have to wait long for their next trip to Pasadena, as they went back the very next season by virtue of winning the PAC 10. The Dawgs came out firing on all cylinders to start the campaign, winning 3 in a row, before losing ugly to Arizona State 26-7, as well as losing to UCLA on November 7th. But they shut down USC and Marcus Allen, and won the Apple Cup to clinch a PAC 10 title. Led by Steve Pelluer’s 1138 yards and 9 touchdowns through the air, as well as Ron Jackson’s 711 scrimmage yards and 5 total touchdowns, the Huskies brought an okay offense but a great defense which gave up 14.2 points per contest.
The Iowa Hawkeyes were led by Hayden Fry, along with future K-State coach Bill Snyder running the offense, and Kirk Ferentz coaching the O-Line. In addition, this team featured Barry Alvarez coaching the linebackers, and two Stoops brothers, Bob and Mike, as defensive backs. This team proves that Iowa has always been like they are now: a ball control offense (21.7 Points per Game), backed by a really great defense (surrendering only 10.8 points per game). All those stats, combined with mediocre passing (nobody had over 1000 passing yards on the season) and incredible punting stats (Reggie Roby had 2193 punting yards on the year, at an average of 49 yards per boot), prove that Iowa had established it’s identity long before Kirk and Brian took the wheel.
There was one player that Iowa forgot to account for: Jacque Robinson, father of Nate. Robinson only had 177 yards on 38 carries the entire season. But in this game, he rushed 20 times for 142 yards and 2 scores, including a 34 yarder. Robinson led the charge for the Dawgs as they shut out the Hawkeyes, 28-0. Robinson was the first Freshman to win Rose Bowl MVP, and figured to be a major part of the next NY6 push by the Huskies.
1985 Orange Bowl
1984 was a weird year for college football writ large. The year featured 6 number one teams, 25 teams were in the top 10 at one point, and the national champion, the BYU Cougars, secured their best win in the Holiday Bowl against a 6-6 Michigan! The Cougars spent most of that year on top of the AP Poll, but the Huskies were there for 4 weeks in the middle of the year until a loss to USC knocked them off their perch. Still, this was a great team, anchored by Jacque Robinson’s 901 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. Hugh Millen also chipped in 5 passing touchdowns and over 1000 yards, while the defense caught 24 interceptions as a unit. Other than that loss to USC, the Dawgs ran through the PAC 10 that year, finishing with an 11-1 record.
This Oklahoma team is also a great one. Coached by the legendary Barry Switzer, and featuring a wishbone offense coordinated by Mack Brown, the Sooners featured 3 backs who finished with over 400 yards total on the season. Other players of note include quarterback Troy Aikman (who transferred to UCLA in 1986 and became the first Freshman to start at Oklahoma since WW2), “The Boz” Brian Bosworth, who finished with 133 tackles on the year, and nose tackle Tony Casillas who was named an All American. After tying Texas, the Sooners dropped a game to Kansas, while beating #1 Nebraska and winning Bedlam against #3 Oklahoma State to lock up their spot in Miami with a Big Eight title.
The Orange Bowl itself was positioned as a sort of National Championship, as Orange Bowl chairman Nick Crane pointed out that BYU’s opponents had a combined record under .500, and that is not befitting of a National Champion. After the Huskies jumped out to a 14-0 lead, Oklahoma tied it by halftime. After a scoreless third, Oklahoma kicked a field goal to go up 17-14, the Sooner Schooner got stuck, and OU was assessed a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The ensuing attempt was blocked, but the Sooners rectified that later with another field goal, keeping the score 17-14. After Husky quarterback Paul Sicuro’s third interception, he was replaced by Hugh Millen, who led the Huskies 74 yards down the field and capped off that drive with a 12 yard touchdown pass to Mark Pattison. A Husky interception on the next drive, and a touchdown by fullback Rick Fenney made it 28-17, which would stay the final score. Both Don James and Barry Switzer felt that UW should’ve been the National Champion. It might be time to relitigate that and make a case for a title, but that is an offseason project!
1991 Rose Bowl
The first in a trilogy of Rose Bowls, the ‘91 Rose Bowl, like all trilogies, had some pretty weird elements that future installments smoothed out. For one thing, the Huskies played Iowa after winning the PAC 10, finishing with 2 losses, one to a great Colorado team and the other to a UCLA team that finished 5-6. The story on offense was Greg Lewis, the running back who won the inaugural Doak Walker Award, finishing with 1279 yards and 8 touchdowns. Mark Brunell finished with 1732 passing yards and 14 touchdowns, plus 10 rushing touchdowns. Mario Bailey paced the receivers with 40 catches, 667 yards and 6 touchdowns, a far cry from his 1991 regular season stats, which we’ll get to. But the story of this team was its aggressive defense, led by Steve Emtman, D’Marco Farr, and Chico Fraley up front and Dana Hall, Charles Mincey, and Shane Pahukoa in the secondary. This is a team that broke your will in addition to beating you, and nobody can attest to that more than USC quarterback Todd Marinovich, who was sacked three times during their game against the Huskies. He gave us the greatest quote in Husky history, and also the name of our podcast. “I just saw purple. That’s all I saw. No numbers, no faces, just purple.” That sums up Lambright’s defense pretty well. It’s “pin your ears back and rush constantly”. The quarterback can’t make any reads if he’s on his back!
Iowa was the co-Big Ten Champ, with wins at Michigan State, Michigan and number 5 Illinois among the highlights. They were led by coach Hayden Fry in his 12th season at the helm. This team also featured future Big Ten head coach Bret Bielema on the defensive line.
The Dawgs stormed out to a 33-7 lead by the end of the first half, but let up in the second, possibly due to Coach James’ tendency to let his backups play in blowouts. Iowa scored 27 second half points, but the Huskies iced it with a 31 yard Mario Bailey touchdown reception, which left the final score 46-34. Also noteworthy for the Dawgs in this game was the two defensive touchdowns they had, the first being Dana Hall returning a blocked punt 27 yards, and the second being a 37 yard pick six by Charles Mincy. The 80 combined points were a Rose Bowl record until 2012, when Oregon and Wisconsin would combine for 83 total points. The next Rose Bowl would be one for the books for the Dawgs.
1992 Rose Bowl
This team needs no introduction among Husky fans, regardless of age. This was where the team of legend rounded into form and took their revenge on everyone they played. It was not the same team from 1990-91 however. For one thing, offensive line coach Keith Gilbertson was elevated to offensive coordinator, and he brought an offense which put up the second most points per game at 38.4. They were led by a new quarterback, Billy Joe Hobert, after Steve Emtman injured Mark Brunell in spring practice with a hard hit (though he eventually returned and did well, completing almost 60 percent of his passes). The star of the pass catchers of course, was Mario Bailey who hauled in 62 catches for 1037 yards and an unreal 17 touchdowns. Beno Bryant and Jay Barry led the way in the rushing attack with Bryant gaining 943 yards and 8 touchdowns with a 6 yards per carry average, and Barry racking up 718 yards and 10 touchdowns. Hobert had 2271 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions through the air, and another 5 touchdowns on the ground.
But the real fearsome side was the defense, which gave up an unbelievable 8.4 points per game, good for second in the country. The 4-4 scheme devised by Jim Lambright carried much of the same philosophy as the 1990 defense: heavy pressure from the line constantly and man coverage from the secondary. This super aggressive defense led to tremendous success in the turnover game, with Walter Bailey recording 7 interceptions and 2 pick sixes on the year. As a unit, the defense intercepted the ball 22 times, and forced 20 total fumbles. Overall, the team finished second in total defense. Dave Hoffman, Steve Emtman, and Shane Pahukoa led the team in tackles. There was no doubt that this team was a team of destiny. But in their way was a titan to be slain.
The Michigan Wolverines came into this game with a new coach in Gary Moelller, and the Heisman winner in Desmond Howard. Quarterback Elvis Grbac threw for 1955 yards and 24 touchdowns, running back Rickey Powers had 1187 yards on the ground and 9 touchdowns, and the Heisman trophy winner had 950 yards and 19 touchdowns receiving, in addition to a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown. It was going to be a tough task containing the Wolverines’ offense and all their weapons. Other coaches on this team included defensive coordinator Lloyd Carr, quarterbacks and receivers coach Cam Cameron and O-Line coach Les Miles. Michigan’s only loss in the regular season was to then top ranked Florida State, and they won The Game against Ohio State 31-3, setting up a clash in Pasadena with the Huskies.
The first quarter was scoreless, then the Huskies kicked off the scoring in the second with a Billy Joe Hobert scamper, followed by 2 Travis Hanson field goals to make it 13-7 at the half. UW scored 8 more points in the third on a Mark Bruener touchdown reception, followed by a pass to fellow tight end Aaron Pierce for 2, then Mark Brunell and Mario Bailey connected on a 38 yard touchdown pass, now sealed in Husky lore:
That play and that pose illustrate something that’s often talked about in sports, but very rarely openly demonstrated: The concept that there can be a “team of destiny”. The way that the Huskies played on that play, in that game, and indeed in that season, the Championship was theirs and they sure as heck played like it! The final was 34-14, and UW was named the Coaches Poll National Champ, splitting the title with Miami.
1993 Rose Bowl
In Coach James’ last season at the helm of UW, he returned most of the key players from that National Championship run, but offensive production dipped, likely due to Gilbertson’s departure. Still, there were a lot of bright spots. Napoleon Kauffman ran for 1045 yards, and 6 touchdowns. The regression was seen the most in the dip in passing yards. Mark Brunell led the way with 1301 yards, 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Dave Hoffman paced the team in tackles again with 91 total, and 8 sacks. UW came out hot, winning their first 8 games before losing to Arizona and then dropping the Apple Cup, no doubt with the shadow of NCAA investigations hanging over their heads. This was enough to win the PAC 10, however.
Michigan, meanwhile, went 9-0-3, returning Moeller, Elvis Grbac and running back Tyrone Wheatley who was the star of the offense. Wheatley rushed for 1122 yards and 10 touchdowns to lead the offense which averaged 32.8 points per game. Michigan tied with Notre Dame, Illinois and Ohio State but nevertheless did not suffer a defeat.
This game was back and forth the whole way with 6 lead changes but this game ultimately went to Michigan, 38-31. Tyrone Wheatley was the MVP, rushing for 235 yards and 3 touchdowns. It also turned out to be Don James’ final game at UW, as he would resign before the 1993 season in protest of NCAA penalties.
2001 Rose Bowl
The Huskies’ 8 year NY6 drought ended in 2000 with Washington splitting the PAC 10 title with Oregon and Oregon State. Led by Marques Tuiasosopo, this team developed a reputation for winning close games, as 8 of 12 were decided by one score, with the only loss coming to Oregon. For his part, Tuiasosopo threw for 2146 yards and 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, rushing for 394 yards and 6 touchdowns as well. Rich Alexis paced the ball carriers with 738 yards and 9 touchdowns, and Todd Elstrom led all receivers with 683 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Purdue came into the game at 8-3, and were a surprising conference champ, scoring upset victories against Michigan, Northwestern and Ohio State. They were led by future Hall of Famer Drew Brees at quarterback and coached by longtime Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller. Brees passed for 3393 yards and 24 touchdowns that season, and Purdue came into the Rose Bowl as a 2 point favorite.
Marques Tuiasosopo went 16-22 for 138 yards and 1 touchdown through the air, plus 15 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown on the ground, as he and second year head coach Rick Neuheisel guided the Huskies to another Rose Bowl victory, their first in nine years, winning 34-24. It would also mark the beginning of a 15 year NY6 drought for the Dawgs, one that was broken by the legendary coach Chris Petersen.
2016 Peach Bowl
The 2016 Huskies came into the season on a collision course with the playoff, because they brought back so many key contributors from 2015 and with another year of experience, were primed and ready for a run to the upper echelon of college football. This is the first time where I can safely say I remember most of this season. What jumps out to me is the sheer dominance, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake had a ton of talent to work with. Budda Baker, Taylor Rapp, Kevin King, and Sidney Jones were all in the same secondary. Azeem Victor, Jojo Mcintosh, Ben Burr-Kirven and DJ Beavers led the linebackers. And up front Benning Potoa’e and Elijah Qualls patrolled the edges while the two-headed monster of Vita Vea and Greg Gaines locked down the middle. And that’s just on defense!
The offense was led by Jake Browning, who tossed 34 touchdowns for 3430 yards, and by the two back tandem of Myles Gaskin (1373 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Lavon Coleman (852 yards, 7 touchdowns) on the ground. The receivers weren’t too shabby either: John Ross had 81 catches for 1150 yards and 17 touchdowns, and Dante Pettis had 822 yards for 15 touchdowns on 53 catches. Together, this team exorcised common demons in Stanford and Oregon in emphatic fashion. They had a close brush with defeat against Arizona, and lost to USC, but were able to regain their footing and win the PAC 12 title, in a game that was over as soon as Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau went out with an injury. As a result of that, and being a one loss P5 champ, they were selected to face Alabama in the Peach Bowl.
After both teams went 3 and out to start the game, the Dawgs scored off a 64 yard drive that was capped by a Dante Pettis touchdown catch, and for a moment I began to believe that we could do it. Anything was possible. And then Bo Scarbrough happened.
Listed at 6 foot 1, 235 pounds, Scarborough was like a man among boys out there. Like Derrick Henry before him, he ran hard and could not only run through you, but past you as well. He finished with 180 yards and 2 touchdowns, and broke the spirits of thousands of Husky fans, as Bama won in the most Bama way possible, 24-7.
2017 Fiesta Bowl
Fresh off a CFP berth and returning a lot of contributors from a playoff team, the Dawgs were set for another possible shot at the playoff. Browning saw a dip in his passing numbers, with 2719 yards, 19 touchdowns and 5 interceptions but that is easy to see when you lose a speedster like John Ross. Myles Gaskin took a step up though, rushing for 1380 yards and 21 touchdowns, while Dante Pettis led the receivers with 761 yards and 7 touchdowns. The Dawg defense continued their fantastic play, with BBK, Kieshawn Bierria and Taylor Rapp top 3 in tackles, with solid contributions from Vita Vea, Greg Gaines, and Ezekiel Turner, as well as Myles Bryant, Jojo Mcintosh, and 2 picks from Byron Murphy.
This season was a little bit of a disappointment, with 2 inexplicable losses to Stanford and Arizona State knocking the Huskies out of PAC 12 title contention. But it also includes a dominant win against Oregon, a 41-14 Apple Cup victory, and a win over Fresno State, featuring a coach named Kalen Deboer calling the offense. Their opponent in Chris Petersen’s return to the Fiesta Bowl was Penn State, coming in at 10-2 behind the arm of Trace McSorley. Coming into the game, I had no idea how it would go. Then Saquon Barkley happened.
It honestly felt like he ran for more than his 137 yards and 2 touchdowns. This, along with his 7 catches for 38 yards, is what catapulted the Nittany Lions to a 35-28 victory. Penn State outgained the Dawgs by 214 yards (545-331) as they were dominant in both the run and pass game. Still though, this felt like a team that was a few plays away from contending for a playoff. Would they get it done the next year?
2018 Rose Bowl
As it turns out, they wouldn’t go to the playoff, but they would win the conference behind strong showings from their vets on both sides of the ball. Jake Browning had 3192 yards and 16 touchdowns, plus 4 rushing touchdowns. Myles Gaskin continued his run of great production, once again eclipsing 1000 yards with 1268 and 12 TDs. Aaron Fuller led the receivers with 874 yards and 8 receiving touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ben Burr-Kirven had 176 total tackles, backed up by solid numbers from the secondary (Taylor Rapp and Byron Murphy both had stellar seasons), and a defensive line that continued producing despite losing Vita Vea to the NFL. Outside of a bad loss to Cal, and a loss to Oregon in overtime, Washington breezed through PAC 12 play. The highlight of this season for me was the Apple Cup win in the snowy confines of Martin Stadium, 28-15. The Huskies capped the season off with a 10-3 win over Utah in the PAC 12 Championship game.
This led to a showdown in Pasadena with Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes, who were led by Dwayne Haskins. Haskins diced up the UW defense to the tune of 251 yards and 3 touchdowns, as, despite a furious 4th quarter push, the Buckeyes held on to beat the Huskies 28-23.
2023 Sugar Bowl
That brings us to Monday, January 1st, 2024. The Huskies went up against the Big 12 champ Texas Longhorns in a game that featured a furious comeback by Texas. Michael Penix threw for 438 yards on 29 completions with 2 touchdowns, winning offensive MVP in the process. His 438 yards while completing over 70 percent of his passes are 3rd most in CFP history behind Mac Jones’ 464 in the National Championship in 2021, and Joe Burrow’s 493 in the semifinal in 2019. Defensively, Bralen Trice was disruptive, recording 5 tackles, 3 for loss, and 2 sacks as he won defensive MVP. But the real hero was an unlikely one in Elijah Jackson, who emphatically swatted away a last second Quinn Ewers throw to Adonai Mitchell in the end zone to seal the Huskies’ trip to Houston and the National Championship game, as the Huskies won 37-31.