The 2014 version of Pac-12 football was widely regarded to be one of its best years, and the national post-season awards are reflecting it. Already, Arizona’s Scooby Wright has pulled down the Nagurski (top defensive player) and Lombardi (top lineman or linebacker) awards, Utah’s Nate Orchard has captured the Hendricks Award (defensive ends) and UCLA’s Eric Kendricks has nailed down the Butkus (top linebacker).
Good grief, we haven’t even gotten to Marcus Mariota yet, who figures to begin his trophy week Thursday night on the Home Depot college awards show. He’s up for the Maxwell (top player) and Davey O’Brien (top quarterback) awards, and obviously, will cap it Saturday with Oregon’s first Heisman trophy.
Also finalists on the awards show: Wright, for the Bednarik Award as the top defender; Tom Hackett of Utah for the Ray Guy (punting); Hroniss Grasu of Oregon for the Rimington (centers); and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon, for the Thorpe (top defensive back).
Combined with other standouts like the Washington defenders Danny Shelton, Hau’oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson, there was quite the star power in the Pac-12 this year. I did an unscientific look at the top years of post-season hardware collected by the league and settled on 2005, 2002 and 1998, but 2014 is in the running as the best.
In ’05, USC’s Reggie Bush won the Heisman (despite having to fulfill the Heisman return policy), Doak Walker (running backs) and and the Walter Camp; USC’s Matt Leinart came away with the Unitas; UCLA’s Marcedes Lewis grabbed the Mackey for tight ends; Oregon State’s Alexis Serna claimed the Groza for kickers; and OSU’s Mike Hass was awarded the Biletnikoff for wide receivers.
In ’02, USC’s Carson Palmer won the Heisman and Unitas (quarterbacks) awards; Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs took home the Nagurski, Lombardi and Hendricks; and Washington State’s Rien Long won the Outland as the top interior lineman.
The year 1998 also showed some top-end talent: Kris Farris of UCLA won the Outland; Cade McNown of UCLA took the Unitas; Chris McAlister of Arizona won the Mosi Tatupi Award as the top special-teams player; and Chris Claiborne of USC took the Butkus.
Update, 9:19 p.m. Thursday: Mariota swept the Walter Camp, Maxwell and O’Brien awards, Wright added the Bednarik Award to his growing trophy case, and Utah punter Tom Hackett took home the Ray Guy award. With Mariota and Wright leading the way, this is the most decorated (and varied) class of Pac-12 award winners.