In the land of oddities, chalk up the 1994 SWC race as a two-headed goat with both male and female parts. Never before had a team with more than two losses won the SWC crown. Never before had five teams shared the trophy. All that changed in 1994 when due to a curious series of events 62% of the conference won the conference title.
In Part one we looked at the fateful hammer of the NCAA, which crushed favorite Texas A&M's chances of another league title. Now in part two we sift through the those that remained in contention.
(Almost) Everyone Gets a Trophy. Part Two - The Cast of Characters
While the leering press selected Texas to win the race for the suddenly available crown, the rest of the band of misfit toys asked the question "Why the hell not us?" A fair question. A&M's 22 game league unbeaten streak now mattered not and programs from Lubbock to 3rd Ward Houston lined up to take their shot.
Time was running short, the haves of the league, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor were moving on to the alleged greener pastures of the Big 12 starting in 1996. On February 25, 1994, the quartet made it official, and the rest of the league were left to scramble for new homes. Still, the thought of winning one of the final two league crowns became paramount.
Nothing gets the natives in Austin worked up to a lather quite like a blue-chip quarterback. Bear that in mind as we present you one Shea Morenz. Widely thought to be the best quarterback in the high school football in 1992, the San Angelo Central grad chose between Miami, Stanford, UCLA, and Texas. Once the other consensus can't miss quarterback, Ryan Fein opted for UCLA, Morenz committed to Texas. If Morenz didn't make it in football, a scout for the Atlanta Braves called him "the best looking hitter" he'd ever seen, "like Mickey Mantle, only bigger."
Morenz reportedly asked for a $2 million signing bonus, scaring off most suitors but the Blue Jays selected the next Mickey Mantle in the sixth round of the 1992 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. The drama of whether he would sign a major league deal or show up to win the Heisman carried over well into the summer. Morenz eventually enrolled at Texas. Six weeks into his college career he did the most Austin thing a quarterback can do: Morenz injured himself, allegedly giving a fellow partygoer a piggyback ride down a flight of stairs. He missed the rest of the season.
By 1993, Morenz recovered and finally staked his claim to the Longhorn quarterback position. Dave Campbell's Texas Football ignored Morenz' eighteen interceptions compared to thirteen touchdowns and made him the 1994 cover boy. Most agreed, tabbing Morenz to take the next step to greatness and a coronation in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1995.
Most thought the rest of the league were a jumbled mess.
Baylor was picked second by most, the only thing the Bears were missing was a quarterback. Second-year coach Chuck Reedy admitted that the Bears' offense would only go as far as the quarterback could take them. J.J. Joe had just finished his excellent Baylor career, including a proposal to his girlfriend on the video board during a timeout. A freshman from Texas A&M's backyard, Jeff Watson, would prove to be the best option.
Watson started 35 games for Baylor during his four-year career. Every year another newcomer would arrive on campus to take Watson's job, and every year Watson would hobble out to the huddle, much to the chagrin of Baylor fans.
SMU's Tom Rossley deployed the great dual-threat quarterback Ramon Flanigan before the term dual threat became vogue. Picking SMU for a breakthrough season was also in vogue. Every August since the Mustangs resurrection from the death penalty, some poor typewriter jockey pegged the Mustangs to challenge for the league crown. By October that same writer was usually reassessing life choices and checking his meds.
SMU returned eleven starters on offense and on defense they unleashed linebacker Chris Bordano. In a land of giant neck rolls, Bordano's looked as though he'd stuffed a sofa cushion under his neckline.
In Lubbock, Spike Dykes surveyed a young squad, after losing eight offensive starters including All-SWC quarterback Robert Hall and running back Bam Morris. "We've lost about 28 lettermen on offense, all the guys that have caught passes, all that had run the ball, all that threw the ball." Other than that, the Red Raiders would purr like a kitten.
Former Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan began to turn things around in Fort Worth, but the Frogs were too thin to compete for a title. At least that's what most thought. Sullivan had already made history in 1992 when his Frogs became the first TCU team to beat Texas in a quarter century. What is now commonplace was a miracle of the highest order in the early 90s.
At Rice the Owls had made history as well, putting together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the Kennedy Administration. Bewildered and intrigued by Rice's success, Duke University hired the architect of the improbable run, Fred Goldsmith as their new head man in December of '93. Goldsmith should have a statue erected in his honor at Rice, but the University doesn't erect statues for football coaches. No, they commission statues for guys like William Marsh Rice, who bequeathed funds to found the Rice Institute with the mandate that the school should admit "whites only." And Fred Goldsmith can't get bust thrown up outside a cafeteria or a rec field.
Rice turned to former Arkansas/Clemson coach Ken Hatfield to run the nerd herd. Hatfield brought the beautiful option to Rice, a system he implemented to guide Arkansas to back-to-back conference titles in the late 80s. Hatfield's record at Arkansas and Clemson was 87-30-2. Some in the media openly wondered why Hatfield would take the Rice job; we assume Hatfield felt similarly after getting an up-close look at his new squad.
Finally, in Houston, the grand Run-and-Shoot experiment was finally put to rest as second-year head coach Kim Helton, who scrapped the offense for something more conventional. Kim was the fun police and Houston fans were staying away in droves.
Helton promised an improved Cougar team after a 1-9-1 1993 campaign. Two for the 1994 Coogs was the like climbing Everest without oxygen. In a preseason where no one counted anyone out, those on the preseason press junket couldn't bring themselves to give Houston a snowball's chance in hell.
As the 1994 season-opening weekend approached the league braced itself for its out of conference slate. The year before, SWC squads won just 38% of their non-conference contests. Most coaches pointed to pride to spur the soon to be defunct league to better results. A&M coach R.C. Slocum didn't buy in, "the last few years we've felt a pretty good burden in trying to re-establish the SWC and uphold its image. I don't think there's much emphasis on that now." He was right of course; the eight members were packing up, heading in different directions. Rearranging deck chairs wouldn't do much good.
Still, the Cotton Bowl could be had, and 1994 marked the last season that a SWC champion would have an automatic tie-in. Mighty Texas went in 1991, but they'd rather forget that trip and the Miami Hurricanes. Houston hadn't spent New Year's Day in Dallas since 1985. SMU last went in 1983. Baylor hadn't gone since the 1980 season. TCU last went 1959. Rice in 1958. And then there was Texas Tech, the Red Raiders joined the league in 1960 and had yet to experience a frigid New Year's morn in east Dallas.
The conference was a multiple choice quiz with answers no one felt good about. As one columnist wrote, "someone's got to win the SWC title." Technically he was right.
Tune in next time when we look at the oddities of a championship chase that seemingly no one could win.