It was quite the Pac-12 football season, capped by a surprising Friday in which Stanford, which essentially had nothing to play for, blasted UCLA, which had everything to play for. And Arizona sneaked in the back door to the South title.
How nuts was it? Road teams finished the season going 33-21 in league — compared to 22-32 a year ago. The final weekend saw Washington, Oregon, Stanford and Utah all win on the road (though to be fair, three of those four were favored).
Tuesday morning, the league will announce its players of the year, and the full all-conference team will be revealed Tuesday night at 7 on Pac-12 Networks.
— How meaningful was Washington’s Nov. 15 brain cramp at Arizona in not taking a knee to help kill the clock? If the Huskies had won, as they should have, and everything else played out the way it did, UCLA and coach (and UW alum) Jim Mora would have been Pac-12 South champs. Arizona, ASU, UCLA and USC each would have finished with 6-3 league records, and the multiple-team tiebreaker becomes pretty easy, since UCLA beat all three others.
— It was billed, of course, as the year of the quarterback, and although there was some shortfall, there were also some breakthrough performances. The injuries to Taylor Kelly at ASU and Connor Halliday dimmed the collective showing, as did Sean Mannion’s modest season (astonishingly, he didn’t finish in the top 10 in pass efficiency) but there were big years by Cody Kessler at USC and Jared Goff at Cal.
Late in September, I took a whack at rating the best years of Pac-12/10 quarterbacking in history, and came up with 2011, 2004 and 1988, in that order, as the best. The year 2011 produced No. 1 pick (for the ages) Andrew Luck; Matt Barkley and Darron Thomas, who threw for 39 and 33 touchdown passes, respectively; Keith Price’s best season; and Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler.
This year is at least competitive with 2011. It’s going to yield a Heisman Trophy winner in Marcus Mariota; Cody Kessler and Jared Goff, who had 36-4 and 35-7 TD-interception ratios, respectively; Brett Hundley, who completed 70 percent in a season that wasn’t without flaws; and Halliday, who was putting up hellacious numbers when he got hurt Nov. 1, including an NCAA-record 734-yard passing game. Let’s see how the NFL draft weighs in on these guys before making a final judgment.
— Here’s a reflection of the proficiency of the passers: This year, USC and Arizona State are tied for the conference lead in interceptions on defense with 13 each (with the Pac-12 title game and bowl games left). Last year, Arizona State led with 21, and seven teams had 16 or more.
— If Mariota doesn’t win offensive player of the year, Congress may intervene. Defensive honors are truly contentious, with Arizona’s Scooby Wright, Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha, Utah’s Nate Orchard and USC’s Leonard Williams all worthy. I’d go with Wright, who was sensational with 27 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and tied for the league lead in tackles. Kikaha had 18 sacks and Orchard 17.5 and both were marvelous. Wright also had essentially the play of the year, stripping Mariota of the ball to quell Oregon’s last chance when Arizona upset the Ducks in Eugene.
— Coach of the year: 1, Rich Rodriguez. Can’t imagine any other choice. 2, Mark Helfrich. Did an awfully nice job keeping the ship afloat after the Arizona disaster. 3. Kyle Whittingham. Just about the time people were questioning whether he could elevate Utah to Pac-12 level, he did.
— Disappointment of the year: Tie, between Washington State and Oregon State. True, the Cougars were picked No. 5 in the Pac-12 North, but few expected them to regress to a 3-9 record after a bowl season. And Oregon State’s 2-7 league record is its worst since it went winless in 1997.