The 1991 University of Washington football team never lacked for talent.
Rose Bowl MVP Mark Brunell went down with a knee injury during spring practice and was replaced by Billy Joe Hobert, who became a Rose MVP.
James Clifford, the 1989 Pac-10 leader in tackles as a sophomore, came back from a knee injury to back up Dave Hoffmann, who was a second-team All-American selection.
At tailback, the Huskies had Jay Barry, Beno Bryant and Napoleon Kaufman on the depth chart.
With Barry and Bryant the veterans and in a close battle to be the starter each week, UW coach Don James was in no mood for anyone who might intimate that he had a tailback controversy.
"Next question," he said dismissively.
Barry was supposed to be the short-yardage back and Bryant the breakaway runner, but Barry went 81 yards to score at Nebraska. The guys could do whatever was needed.
"It made it interesting in practice because we had a bunch of guys who could be starting," Barry said. "We had guys who were ones and twos rotating back and forth. It was interesting. I'd love to know how Coach James kind of handled all of that."
At California, in a nationally televised match-up between the third-ranked Huskies and No. 7 Bears, James smartly rotated his runners on a day that featured showcase running backs.
In the UW's 24-17 victory, Barry led all rushers with 143 yards on and 19 carries and scored on a 9-yard draw play.
Bryant added 99 yards on 12 carries and supplied the game-winner three plays into the fourth quarter when he took a 65-yard sprint up the middle.
Cal's Lindsey Chapman snapped off a 68-yard touchdown run up the middle to tie the game at 17 with one second left in the third quarter.
The Bears' Russell White, the back with the biggest reputation on either side, curiously was held in check that day.
Here's the ABC broadcast with Brent Musberger and Dick Vermeil calling the action.
Barry remembers a play against the Bears that was significant because he wanted the ball in a crucial situation and Coach James gave it to him.
"Cal was a big game for me," Barry said. "We had a fourth-down play and Coach James called us to the sidelines and I was like, 'Give me the ball. Give me the ball up the middle.' He listened to me."
Now if Barry had quizzed him about the starting job, and who deserved it, he might have heard, 'Next question.'"
This is another in series of vignettes about the UW 1991 national championship football team, filling in the conversation before the pandemic-delayed season begins next month.
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