Adios, Southwest Conference

Quick – Name the last eight members of the Southwest Conference.

Not so easy, is it?

Entering the 1994 season, the long-anticipated demise of the SWC became official.  The 1994 and 1995 campaigns would be the last for the storied conference.  After 80 seasons, the Southwest Conference would fold up its tents; its teams left to a new future.

Arkansas, the only Southwest member outside of the state of Texas, had defected to the Southeastern Conference in 1990.  Now Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech, commencing with the 1996 season, would join the Big Eight to form the Big 12.  Southern Methodist, Rice, and Texas Christian, meanwhile, would join the Western Athletic Conference.  The Houston Cougars, originally set adrift to fend for itself as an independent, would eventually settle upon an affiliation with Conference USA.

Why would a conference as steeped in history as the SWC fold?  Several reasons were proposed:

  • 1) the increased popularity of the NFL in Texas had eroded the state’s college fan base;
  • 2) the widely-held belief that the conference was made up of two teams (Texas and Texas A&M) and a series of woeful second-tier teams; and
  • 3) the scandals which had plagued the conference had allowed marquee schools from around the nation to invade and pluck prime Texas high school talent.

All three theories had merit, but they ignored the bottom line.  What the fall of the SWC really boiled down to was money.  Houston, Rice, and TCU all averaged under 30,000 fans per game, and television money was more interested in the Big 10, the SEC, and the Big Eight.  A move had to be made.

While long-rumored, the announcement of the merger of the Big Eight with four teams from the SWC left me non-plussed.  I had long hoped that the Buffs would make a jump from the Big Eight to the Pac-10, either with BYU or Texas.  The new “Pac-12″ would present new and interesting match-ups, and yes, it would get Colorado out from underneath the shadow of Nebraska.  From my perspective, there was only one saving grave to the new configuration.  Nebraska would continue to play Colorado every year in the new Big 12, but the Cornhuskers would play Oklahoma only twice every four years.  Without the Sooners on the schedule every year, the door had been opened for a “rivalry” game between the Cornhuskers and Buffs on Thanksgiving weekend.

The fact that such a game would be given the label of “rivalry” by the national media, much to the chagrin of the Husker faithful, gave me at least one reason to smile about the new Big 12 Conference.

Preseason 1994 … Colorado looks to build on four-game winning streak

In Boulder, the CU Buffs and their fans had high aspirations, if not high hopes.  In 1993, Colorado head coach Bill McCartney had wanted a more balanced attack on offense. Mission accomplished: the Buffs cranked out 470 yards of total offense per game, 240 on the ground and 230 through the air. Still, the end result, an 8-3-1 record, was not all that McCartney had expected.

“We were disappointed that we didn’t play better at crunch time in close games,” said McCartney. “But we were encouraged by winning our last four games and getting a bowl victory. Ending last year on a high note provides us with good momentum heading into this season.”

On paper Colorado matched up well with the rest of the nation.  Quarterback Kordell Stewart returned, with the senior already holding two dozen school records, including the record for the most passing yards in school history. Charles E. Johnson was off to the NFL, but Michael Westbrook and tight end Christian Fauria, both All-American candidates, returned. Lamont Warren was also gone, leaving a year early, but Rashaan Salaam returned.

The reason the Colorado coaching staff could be optimistic about success for its “skill position” players was that the list of “Big Uglies” along the offensive line was very impressive. Outland trophy candidate Tony Berti returned, along with two year starters Derek West at tackle and Brian Stoltenberg at center. Guard Chad Hammond, who was an honorable mention All-Big Eight player in 1993 was recovering from back surgery. If Hammond couldn’t go, junior Heath Irwin and sophomore Chris Naeole were ready to go.

On defense, the Buffs had two outside linebackers to replace 1993 MVP Sam Rogers and Ron Woolfork, but senior Ted Johnson (who led the team in tackles in 1993) along with sophomore Matt Russell (number three in tackles) returned. Also gone were two starters in the secondary – Dwayne Davis and Dennis Collier – but All-American candidate Chris Hudson returned, joined by players with starting experience in junior Donnell Leomiti and junior Dalton Simmons. The defensive line would be strong, with starters Shannon Clavelle, Kerry Hicks, and Darrius Holland returned. The defensive line, as a group, was tabbed as the No. 1 defensive line in the nation by The Sporting News.

“We obviously have some holes to fill on defense,” said McCartney said after spring practice. “We’re strong and experienced up front and inside, but our outside linebackers are largely untested and the secondary will be mostly young with mostly sophomores back there. We have the ingredients for a good defense, and after watching these guys during the spring, I’m optimistic we’ll be improved.”

The kicking game, long a strength of the Colorado program, was suspect in 1994. Mitch Berger, who had handled both the punting and kicking duties in 1993, was gone. In his place, junior Neil Voskeritchian would be the placekicker, while red-shirt freshman Andy Mitchell was penciled in as punter.

Overall, the team was loaded with talent, and ordinarily a team coming off of an 8-3-1 record could be expected to improve. The problem: the schedule was once again seemingly a production of the Marquis de Sade.  Road games loomed against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Texas in Austin, and Nebraska in Lincoln.  All three teams had national title hopes.  Throw in tough home games against Oklahoma, Kansas State and Wisconsin (which had shocked the Big 10 in 1993 by going 10-1-1 and going to the Rose Bowl), and anticipating an improvement on the Buffs’ 8-3-1 record seemed optimistic.

When the 1994 preseason polls came out, Colorado was ranked 8th in the nation. On the schedule were three preseason top ten teams – No. 4 Nebraska; No 5 Michigan; and No. 10 Wisconsin. Other ranked teams on the schedule were No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 18 Texas.

If Colorado was to be a top ten team at the end of the 1994 season, the Buffs would certainly deserve the ranking.

Scouting the Nation

With Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden finally released from the burden of being “the best head coach never to win a national championship”, the nation in 1994 could move on to new issues.

Questions for 1994 included:  Could Florida State repeat as national champions? Did Florida, behind Danny Weurffel, have what it would take to become champions of the State of Florida by beating Florida State (with the national title being an added bonus)?  Would All-World freshman quarterback Ron Powlus restore Notre Dame to its accustomed position among the nation’s elite?

When the preseason top ten was announced, it looked like this:

No. 1 – Florida; No. 2 – Notre Dame; No. 3 – Florida State; No. 4 – Nebraska; No. 5 – Michigan; N0. 6 – Miami; No. 7 – Arizona; No. 8 – Colorado; No. 9 – Penn State; No. 10 – Wisconsin.


3 Replies to “Pre-season: 1994 – Adios, Southwest Conference – Colorado returns 16 starters”

  1. My dad turned over in his grave when the South West Conference discontinued. The biggest game of the year was Texas and Texas A&M on Thanksgiving at least if you were in or from Texas.

  2. Members of SW Conference in 1994:Baylor University,Texas University,Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Southern Methodist University(SMU), Texas Cristian University(TCU),Rice University, Arkansas University.

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