Two losses in Friday games will keep the Pac-12 from making any Monday appearances.
That’s the partial summary of a football season that will end with Pac-12 teams playing in two New Year’s Six games, while the conference misses the College Football Playoff semifinals for the second time in three years. Going into the bowl season, a review of 2017:
Late in the third quarter of a Sunday game during the season’s opening weekend, a lot of UCLA fans wanted coach Jim Mora to be fired. And then quarterback Josh Rosen rallied the Bruins from 27 points down to beat Texas A&M 45-44. Mora eventually would be fired, anyway.
Most important games
The conference’s missing the CFP field is partly traced to two Friday road games: USC’s 30-27 loss at Washington State in September and Washington’s 30-22 defeat at Stanford in November. The Trojans and Huskies may have been able to absorb those losses, if not for poor performances at Notre Dame (USC) and Arizona State (Washington), but the conference’s parity — and short-week scheduling — made an impact. In the end, the Pac-12 didn’t come close to the CFP’s top four, with USC ranked No. 8 by the committee.
As for the consolation of a New Year’s Six invitation, Washington needed a rally against Utah to get into the Fiesta Bowl, scoring 10 points in the last minute of a 33-30 victory.
Most inexplicable outcome
Washington State’s 37-3 loss at California (another Friday road game) came against a team that posted only one other conference win.
Highest approval rating for a failed idea
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was almost universally praised for ordering a 2-point conversion attempt against USC, never mind that it failed in a 28-27 loss. Quarterback Troy Williams couldn’t see Darren Carrington II, open in the back of the end zone, and was tackled short of the goal line.
Most criticized strategy that shouldn’t have mattered
In that loss to Washington, Whittingham called a timeout with 23 seconds left and the Huskies in possession at their 30-yard line. In that moment, no analytic information ever published would have given Utah a better chance than Washington of winning the game in regulation. The Huskies’ odds of getting into position for a field goal were low, although they succeeded.
Best single-game performance
Stanford’s Bryce Love ran for 301 yards vs. Arizona State in a goodillustration of how he gained yards in big chunks, after seemingly beingcontained. Five of his runs — of 61, 43, 39, 59 and 31 yards —accounted for 233 yards. Love netted 68 yards on his other 20 attempts.
Best repeat performances
Washington’s Dante Pettis returned four punts for touchdowns, giving him an NCAA-record nine TDs in his career.
Coach of the Year (Retained)
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez took a team picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South to a 5-4 conference record, thanks mostly to an accidental substitution. Quarterback Khalil Tate became a phenomenon after replacing the injured Brandon Dawkins in the first quarter against Colorado. Tate ran for four touchdowns in the Wildcats’ first Pac-12 win and subsequently played his way into the Heisman Trophy conversation, until Arizona faded.
Coach of the Year (Fired)
Todd Graham’s award also could be filed under Most Overstated Value of a Rivalry Game. Arizona State beat Arizona in the Territorial Cup, finishing second in the South after being picked fifth. Graham still was fired after a 7-5 season.
Best Return on Investment
That’s to be determined, after UCLA and ASU each spent over $12 million to buy out a head coach. The early favorite is UCLA, thanks to Bruins’ landing Chip Kelly. ASU’s hiring of Herm Edwards is unconventional, at best.
Assistant Coach of the Year
Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt moved from Colorado to Oregon. Instantly, the Buffaloes got worse and the Ducks got better, ranking fourth in the league in total defense. Keep an eye on Leavitt, if Oregon coach Willie Taggart goes to Florida State.
Utahn of the Year
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, from Logan, played inconsistently a senior, but he beat Utah in his only home-state appearance and will finish his career with nearly 15,000 passing yards.
Offensive Player of the Year
Love, Stanford. He ran for nearly 2,000 yards and his importance became clear when he was sidelined at Oregon State and the Cardinal rushed for 81 yards in a 15-14 win.
Defensive Player of the Year
Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State. He’ll certainly get Utah’s endorsement, after the lineman ransacked the Utes during his season of 22½ tackles for loss.
If the definition truly is “most valuable,” Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert is deserving. His replacement passed for a total of 78 yards in consecutive games, a win over Utah and a loss to Washington.
Play of the Year
With his team leading the Pac-12 championship game by three points in the fourth quarter, USC’s Uchena Nwosu stopped Stanford’s Cameron Scarlett on a fourth-and-goal play from the Trojan 1-yard line. The Trojans claimed their first championship of the Pac-12 era — and the first for any South member.
Didn’t see this coming
Oregon State went winless in Pac-12 play for the second time in three seasons and coach Gary Andersen walked away in early October. The Beavers had beaten Oregon to finish 4-8 in 2016 and expected to make a bowl game this season. During the summer, Andersen said, “This is a big year for us. It’s year three, and I think we can make strides.” Ex-Beavers quarterback Jonathan Smith, formerly Washington’s offensive coordinator, is OSU’s new coach.
Didn’t see this coming II
Utah kicker Matt Gay failed to win the job initially, but the former college soccer player took over during the season opener and became a Lou Groza Award finalist by making 27 field goals. Gay never was the Pac-12 special teams player of the week, thanks to Pettis’ exploits and the inspirational story of USC long snapper Jake Olson.
Best bowl matchup
USC vs. Ohio State, Cotton Bowl. A traditional Rose Bowl pairing has been shipped to Texas in the New Year’s Six lineup.
PAC-12 BOWL LINEUP
Dec. 16 • Oregon vs. Boise State, Las Vegas Bowl.
Dec. 26 • Utah vs. West Virginia, Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Dec. 26 • UCLA vs. Kansas State, Cactus Bowl.
Dec. 27 • Arizona vs. Purdue, Foster Farms Bowl.
Dec. 28 • Stanford vs. TCU, Alamo Bowl.
Dec. 28 • Washington State vs. Michigan State, Holiday Bowl.
Dec. 29 • Arizona State vs. North Carolina State, Sun Bowl.
Dec. 29 • USC vs. Ohio State, Cotton Bowl.
Dec. 30 • Washington vs. Penn State, Fiesta Bowl.