The college football season is at the halfway point and the Pac-12 is not without some surprises. Here are the awards for the season – so far.
Most Improved Team: Oregon State Beavers
Something must be in the water in Corvallis, Oregon. After just three wins in 2011, the Beavers are one of the few undefeated teams left in college football. Despite an injured starting quarterback, offensive struggles and playing just one game in its first three weeks, Oregon State has overcome. The Beavers have a difficult road ahead with Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon still on the schedule. But they’ve shown no deficiency in overcoming adversity. If the Beavers (and Ducks) remain on the winning path, fans are in for one heck of a showdown in Corvallis when the Ducks come to town for the last game of the season.
Others in the mix: UCLA Bruins, Arizona Wildcats
Biggest Disappointment: Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach
Leach’s return to college football after his fall from grace at Texas Tech was supposed to restore Washington State to its once prominent position, playing in Rose Bowls and competing with the Pac-12 elite. Yet after eight weeks, Leach finds himself in the middle of one of the most trying rebuilding projects in all of college football. After a 2-1 start, the Cougars fell off the rails when they allowed Colorado to come back from a 17-point deficit to for its only win of the season. Now Washington State sits at 2-5 showing little promise for much more success the rest of the season.
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Others in the mix: Southern Cal QB Matt Barkley; Utah RB John White III
Best Defensive Player: Arizona State DT Will Sutton
Sutton always makes his impact felt. He rushes the quarterback like a defensive end from the tackle position. He stops the run, forces fumbles and brings down quarterbacks in the backfield. Sutton exited the Oregon game with an injury after just two plays. His final play: a sack of quarterback Marcus Mariota forcing a fumble, which led to Arizona State’s first touchdown of the game. Sutton has a space on some NFL team’s roster reserved for him sometime in the near future.
Others in the mix: Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford Cardinal; Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State Beavers
Best Offensive Player: Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Yes, there’s Kenjon Barner, D’Anthony Thomas and Colt Lyerla. Oregon’s got one powerful offense with seemingly limitless weapons. But the man who makes the offense go is Mariota. The freshman provides a dynamic skill set with speed to burn on the ground and an strong accurate arm. No matter which he chooses, ground or air, Mariota punishes opponents. A perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s weapon-filled offense, Mariota is multitalented and makes the Ducks a threat to score at any point.
Others in the mix: Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal Trojans; Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA Bruins; Matt Scott, QB, Arizona Wildcats
Arizona (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12)
• Ka’Deem Carey entered the conversation for Arizona’s best offensive player. Matt Scott gathered most of the attention in the Wildcats’ offensive outburst to start the season, but Carey’s line is impressive. The sophomore back racked up 172 rushing yards against Washington and has 842 on the season to go with 11 touchdowns. “Ka’Deem is really talented and he runs hungry,” said head coach Rich Rodriguez. “He really makes guys tackle him.”
• Arizona has Southern Cal next week, giving the ‘Cats a shot at a key win for their bowl resume. Arizona is certainly still in the Pac-12 South picture with the Trojans next week and Arizona State still on the schedule. With only three losses and remaining games against the division’s top opponents, Arizona could easily find itself in a Pac-12 Championship showdown.
Next Game: vs. Southern Cal
Arizona State (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12)
• The Sun Devils can’t take many positives from Saturday’s 43-21 clobbering delivered by Oregon. Premier defensive linemen Will Sutton and Junior Onyeali left early in the game with injuries and did not return, leaving Arizona State’s defense wide open to Oregon’s lethal rushing attack. “Losing Will was very disruptive,” said head coach Todd Graham, “and we did a poor job being prepared for that as a staff.”
• Despite the loss, Arizona State is still just a half game behind Southern Cal for the lead in the Pac-12 South. The Sun Devils still have the Trojans on the schedule and they face UCLA next week, sandwiched between the two in the South standings. Saturday’s loss was a big blow, but didn’t sound the death knell for the Sun Devils. Arizona State is still in prime position to prove itself among the league’s elite.
Next Game: vs. UCLA Oct. 27
California (3-5, 2-3 Pac-12))
• The Golden Bears’ offense failed to do much of anything against Stanford. The Cardinal’s stout run defense stuffed even Cal’s deep rushing attack. Isi Sofele, Brendan Bigelow and C.J. Anderson combined for 18 yards. “This goes on everybody,” said head coach Jeff Tedford. “We need to do a better job as coaches putting them in places to be successful.” The Bears will look to turn around against Utah, who allowed three rushing touchdowns to Oregon State running back Storm Woods in Week 8.
• With only four games remaining on the schedule for Cal, a bowl game doesn’t seem likely with five losses. After two big wins over UCLA and Washington State, such a poor performance couldn’t do much for confidence in Berkley. Like Washington and Arizona, Cal is another team squatting on the edge of success and failure.
Next Game: at Utah Oct. 27
Colorado (1-6, 1-3 Pac-12)
• Colorado must still search for the tiny victories, the moral victories. A 28-point loss to UCLA in Week 5 turned into a 31-point loss to Arizona State turned into a 44-point loss to Southern Cal – and those are just the past three games for the Buffs. Successes are dwindling and failures are growing even greater.
• Up next is Oregon followed by Stanford and Arizona. It’s difficult to envision victories in any of these contests with how Colorado has played this season. With so many young players starting for the Buffs, the season from here on out must be about development. As it is said, the best way to get better is by playing the best teams. The Buffs have a shot to do just that.
Next Game: at Oregon Oct. 27
No. 2 Oregon (7-0, 4-0 Pac-12)
• On Thursday against Arizona State, Oregon scored all 43 of its points in less than 19 minutes. The final score does not tell the story of the game because, yes, the Ducks were shut out in the second half. But Bryan Bennett filled in for Marcus Mariota and D’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner sat after two drives after halftime. So, yes, Oregon was shut out in the second half – second and third string Oregon that is. The fact of the matter is the Ducks did whatever they well pleased on offense before removing the starters.
• Oregon has Colorado next week. Harsh as it may be to Colorado, the Ducks will most likely easily handle the Buffs. Head coach Chip Kelly must be sure to keep his team focused, confident but not cocky. As long as the Ducks execute as they have, next Saturday will be business as usual, just another live practice as they gear up for Southern Cal in Week 10.
Next Game: vs. Colorado Oct. 27
No. 7 Oregon State (6-0, 4-0 Pac-12)
• The Beavers played well yet again, winning in not-so-flashy fashion. But the bottom line is: undefeated is undefeated. Oregon State continues winning with defense (matched with just enough offense). “When you look at why you win,” said head coach Mike Riley, “turnovers can be great indicators.” The Beavers lead the Pac-12 in turnovers.
• Oregon State goes to Washington next week, another chance for improvement on offense. The Huskies surrendered 52 points to Arizona and were beat both by land and by air, so the Beavers will have a chance to put points on the board. Despite the clean record, Oregon State’s offense lacks much firepower. “The offense has to come out better and be more consistent,” said receiver Brandin Cooks. “We can’t be good one game and poor the next.”
Next Game: at Washington Oct. 27
No. 10 Southern Cal (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12))
• The Trojans finally earned the dominating victory they needed, albeit against the lowly Colorado Buffaloes. Matt Barkley threw six touchdowns, four of which to Robert Woods. Barkley connected with Woods four times for scores. The pair broke a combined five USC records Saturday.
• Southern Cal must be careful against Arizona. Folks know about the Wildcats’ offensive firepower. A convincing victory over Colorado is nice. One over Arizona is better, especially heading into arguably the Trojans’ toughest stretch of the season. Southern Cal sees Arizona next week followed by Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame. Having their cage rattled by Arizona won’t do the Trojans any favors as far as confidence is concerned when heading home to host the Ducks.
Next Game: at Arizona Oct. 27
No. 19 Stanford (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12)
• Stepfan Taylor ran angry Saturday (perhaps peeved by a questionable call against Notre Dame last week). Taylor finished with 189 yards on 28 carries with one touchdown. “He’s a great back,” said California safety Josh Hill, “probably one of the best in the country.” Taylor has a shot at yet another big game next week when the Cardinal face Washington State.
• The defense was magnificent against Cal, holding the Golden Bears to just three rushing yards and holding receiver Keenan Allen in check. “It was a great effort,” said head coach David Shaw, “particularly on defense – dominating, suffocating defense.” Washington State’s offense has stumbled in the past two weeks averaging just 11.5 points, but always has the potential to put up points through aerial assault.
Next Game: vs. Washington State Oct. 27
UCLA (5-2, 2-2 Pac-12)
• After an idle week, UCLA can leapfrog Arizona State with a victory against the Sun Devils in Week 9. With only two losses and their game with Southern Cal on the horizon, the Bruins are still worthy contenders in the Pac-12 South.
• If Sutton and Onyeali remain on the sidelines for the Arizona State, UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin could have a field day on the ground. Franklin leads the Pac-12 in rushing yards at 125.4 yards per game. Despite the yardage, however, Franklin scored only his fourth rushing touchdown on the season in Week 7 against Utah, his first since having three scores in Week 1.
Next Game: at Arizona State Oct. 27
Utah (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12))
• Utah is fairly gracefully going through growing pains. Four of the Utes’ five losses have been by 14 points or less. They kept Oregon State and UCLA in check the past two weeks, holding each to 21 points.
• Travis Wilson is just a freshman. He’s completed 62 percent of his passes for 392 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions in just two starts. For how little experience Wilson has at this level, that’s not a terrible line in a conference like the Pac-12. And at 6-feet 6-inches tall and 230 pounds, his size will help him in the future, but he must eliminate mistakes. “The biggest disappointment offensively was turning the ball over four times and scoring one touchdown,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “You’re going to win exactly zero games doing that.”
• The Utes have Cal and Washington State the next two weeks and, thus, two chances at well-earned victories. Both the Golden Bears and the Cougars are by no means premier Pac-12 competition, but worthy opponents nonetheless. A pair of victories could do a lot of good for a Utah team and its young quarterback.
Next Game: vs. California Oct. 27
Washington (3-4, 1-3 Pac-12))
• Saturday’s loss to Arizona is very telling for Washington. As noted last week, the Huskies were one of those teams from which people did not know what to expect. With a big win against Stanford and a good showing against Southern Cal but embarrassing losses to LSU and Oregon. Arizona was much the same and yet trounced the Huskies.
• Washington has a fairly easy schedule to finish off the season, but first the Huskies must make it past Oregon State. Quarterback Keith Price has thrown eight interceptions this season and the Beavers’ defense ranks third in the conference with 12 picks. Price must play cautious yet unafraid to keep Washington in the game.
Next Game: vs. Oregon State Oct. 27
Washington State (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12)
• As mentioned, the Cougars’ offense has struggled mightily in its two most recent contests. Washington State already struggles with the run and Stanford’s debilitating run defense doesn’t do the Cougars any favors.
• Establishing a steady air attack will be the Cougars’ key to success against Stanford. When Jeff Tuel replaced Connor Halliday last week at quarterback, he played well, tossing 30 completions for 320 yards and two touchdowns. If Tuel can get into rhythm, the Cougars can score with Stanford (keyword: “if”).
Next Game: at Stanford Oct. 27
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