The Pac 12 “regular” season, if that’s what you want to call it, is over. It was anything but regular, with enough twists to start a pretzel company.
Anyway, here are a few flash-quote reflections, observations and awards: These are listed in the precise order they spilled out of my brain.
House Hunters Renovations' team of the mid-century modern: Colorado. Eight conference wins are three more than the Buffs' won in their first five seasons in the Pac 12.
Coach of the (Duh) Year: Mike MacIntyre. This was the easiest call out of Colorado since weed legalization. And the rest of the country is high if it doesn’t name Coach Mac national coach of the year.
Sports Information Director’s cut-up award: Colorado’s Dave Plati, who answered Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh’s refusal to release a game-week depth chart by putting out his own that included the likes of Elmer Fudd and Austin Powers. The fact that Harbaugh didn’t think it was funny made it even funnier.
Larry Scott Courage Award: Larry Scott
Player of the year: Jake Browning, Washington. The league’s best QB “Jake” since a snake-like creature slithered at Arizona State. Browning boasts a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 40-to-7 on the nation’s No.4 team.
Best individual all-around performance by a USC player last Saturday against Notre Dame trying to make a late bid for the Heisman Trophy even though it's probably too late especially now that the Trojans aren't going to the Pac 12 title game: Adoree' Jackson.
Two Clay Helton decisions that cost USC a shot in the college football playoff.
1: “Max Browne is our starting quarterback.”
2: “Punt, Trojans, Punt!”[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Ah, those fateful words at Utah on Sept. 23 will haunt Trojan fans for years. Chalk it up to a rookie coach, with a rookie quarterback, on the road, trying to impress the ghost of Woody Hayes. Leading the Utes, 27-24, late in the game, Helton faced fourth-and-three at the Utah 37. A first down at that point probably ices the game, but Helton decided to punt, and then watched Utah drive 93 yards to score the game-winning TD with 16 seconds left.
Tripping point: Seasons are delicate things sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint where it all turns, but not in Oregon’s case. Mark Helfrich lost control and trust of the program Sept. 17 at Nebraska. The Ducks were 2-0 and lost by three points in a game in which they failed on four-of-five two-point conversions. Do the math. Helfrich said the decision to go for two is made by the players based on formation.
Why, then, does Oregon even need a coach named Helfrich? That question should be answered this week.
AARP Award: Utah back Joe Williams. He “retired” early in the season, citing burnout and injuries, only to be coaxed back to the team after a rash of injuries decimated the Utes’ depth at running back. Williams averaged 148 yards in eight games to finish with 1,185 for the season, including 332 against UCLA.
Best Pirate Comeback team: Washington State. The Cougars started 0-2 with losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State but then rallied to win eight straight before last Friday’s Apple Cup loss.
Rant of the year: Washington State Coach Mike Leach, after his team fell to 0-2 after a loss to Boise State: “We have the atmosphere of a JC softball game. I mean, that’s what we are—a JC softball team. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s like the team that wins is the one that has the most fun. Crap like that.” (it goes on, but we’re short on time).
Best Pac 12 Network game I missed this year on DirecTV: All of them.
Play of the year: Oregon receiver Darren Carrington’s unbelievable game-winning catch to beat Utah on Nov. 19. The 17-yard reception from Justin Herbert was ruled incomplete on the field but overturned by replay after the Hubble-like telescope blowup of Carrington’s cleat showed he was in bounds. It was the only Oregon play this year anyone wanted to see a second time.
Game of the Year: Utah 31, USC 27. This Sept. 23 thriller in Salt Lake was monumental on many fronts: It introduced USC’s Sam Darnold as the next Pac 12 superstar, ended up deciding the Pac 12 South race and possibly cost USC a shot at the college football playoff. It showcased the difference between a secure coach--Utah’s Kyle Whittingham--and a USC coach feeling the heat. While Clay Helton elected to punt late on fourth-and-three from Utah’s 37, Whittingham took square-jaw charge on the Utes’ final, 93-yard drive, going for it TWICE on fourth-and-short when a field goal could have forced overtime.
Best game in Australia: Cal vs. Hawaii
Freshman of the year: Sam Darnold. The only people who didn’t see Darnold coming was USC’s coaching staff, which waited until a 1-2 start to insert Sam as the Trojans’ starter. This, despite plenty of word that Darnold was the best quarterback on campus since Cody Kessler left for the NFL draft. The good news is Darnold’s late arrival in 2016 now makes USC an early playoff contender in 2017.
Transfer of the year: Thank God for the fifth-year graduate rule that allowed quarterback Davis Webb to bolt from Texas Tech to Cal. Instead of being stuck in Lubbock behind standout Patrick Mahommes, Webb got to live out his dream as a post-graduate at one of the nation’s top universities.
Do you know there are millionaire coaches, with car allowances, who oppose this rule?
Webb has thrown for 4,295 yards this year, with 38 TD passes with only 12 interceptions. His NFL draft status has likely rocketed. One scout told NFL.com in October he thought Webb had a better arm than Jared Goff, last year’s Cal quarterback, who was the No.1 pick in last year’s draft.
“I can’t explain to you how much, and how glad I am to finish my career at Cal,” Webb said after his team’s 36-10 win over UCLA.
And then there’s this: the only quarterback who has thrown for more passing yards this season is Mahommes, the guy Webb would have been stuck behind at Texas Tech.
Bermuda Triangle Award: Stanford. The defending Rose Bowl champions were dismissed and discarded nationally after early losses to Washington, Washington State and Colorado, but have rebounded to 9-3 with a chance for another 10-win season.
Jimmy Hoffa Trophy: Christian McCaffrey. I can’t remember a Heisman runner-up being so disrespected by the national media considering McCaffrey ended up having another sensational season. An early-season injury knocked the junior star off his game and completely off the national radar. For the record, though, McCaffrey, in only 11 games, rushed for 1,600 yards and led the nation in all-purpose yardage (211.55 per game). For this he will likely NOT be invited back to New York for Heisman ceremonies.
Bust (them up) teams of the year: Tie between UCLA and Oregon. These programs started the season in the top 25 and ended a combined 8-16. UCLA was picked to win the South but finished fifth. Oregon went off the rails after a 2-0 start and capped a horrible season with a loss to Oregon State in the Civil War. Phil Knight can't make a shoe with enough rubber to run away from this mess.
We can only be thankful the Bruins and Ducks missed each other on the schedule.[/membership]