2012 Pac-12 regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
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The Pac-12 -- again -- produced national title contenders but not a team playing for the crystal football when the final bell rang. Further, for the first time since 2008, the conference didn't provide a Heisman Trophy finalist.

A short summary of the regular season: It was pretty good but could have been better. But it was definitely surprising.

Better? If things had fallen the right way, seven Pac-12 teams could have been ranked in the final regular-season poll. USC began the season as a national title contender only to yield that spot to Oregon. Then Stanford ended the Ducks' hopes on Nov. 17 with a 17-14 overtime win in Autzen Stadium.

So the conference streak without a football national championship extends to eight seasons.

Surprising? UCLA won the South Division over rival USC, and Stanford beat out Oregon in the North by virtue of the aforementioned win in Eugene. Neither was tapped in the preseason as the conference champion by any of the 123 media members who voted.

Surprising? USC quarterback Matt Barkley topped just about every preseason Heisman Trophy list. He didn't even make first- or second-team All-Pac-12.

Surprising? Three of the four new coaches turned in strong seasons. Start with Jim Mora, who led the Bruins to the Pac-12 championship game and a national ranking. And, a year after USC beat UCLA 50-0, the Bruins prevailed, 38-28.

Sorry for bringing that up, USC.

Both Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State's Todd Graham finished 7-5, though Graham handed Rodriguez his fifth defeat in the Territorial Cup.

Sorry for bringing that up, Wildcats.

The new coach who was expected to make the most noise -- with both his mouth and his team -- was only 1-for-2, and it wasn't Mike Leach's team doing the talking. His Cougars finished 3-9 and recorded just one conference victory. Of course, that lone Pac-12 win was over Washington.

Sorry for bringing that up, Huskies.

The good news is a record eight bowl teams, including a third consecutive season with two BCS bowl berths, which means an extra $6.1 million for the conference to split up.

The bad news is two more coach firings: Jeff Tedford at California after 11 seasons and Jon Embree at Colorado after just two. That means half the teams in the Pac-12 will have changed coaches over the past two years.

Further, USC's disappointing season lands Lane Kiffin on the 2013 hot seat, the only Pac-12 coach who will be stuck with that designation heading into 2013.

What about some highlights? Well, here you go.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton, Corbin Berkstresser
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonArizona State's Will Sutton averaged almost a sack per game this season, including one at Missouri.
Offensive MVP, Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Not only is he the most dominant wide receiver in the country, he might also be the most dominant player. Heisman voters say otherwise, but we in the Pac-12 know just how dominant he can be. His record-setting season should be more than enough to earn him the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver. And if he has matching numbers on a nine-win USC team, he's in New York this week.

Defensive MVP, Will Sutton, Arizona State: The numbers alone paint a pretty good picture of just how dominant the speed-rushing defensive tackle was. He led the conference in tackles for a loss per game and averaged almost a sack per game. He was a wrecking ball -- the kind of player offensive coordinators design their game plan around.

Newcomer of the year, Marcus Mariota, Oregon: In a year in which redshirt freshmen quarterbacks became all the rage, Mariota stood out with his efficiency as a passer, his athleticism as a runner and the speed with which he commanded Oregon's offense. His presence assures Oregon will continue to be one of the best offensive teams in the country in the coming years.

Biggest surprise: A school not named USC or Oregon is going to the Rose Bowl. In fact, neither team played in the Pac-12 championship game -- which many thought was as foregone conclusion before a single ball had been hiked. Stanford and UCLA were surprises -- but they also earned it.

Biggest disappointment: USC's once-promising season first got hijacked at Stanford. And from then on the Trojans were swimming in concrete shoes. After starting the season No. 1 in the AP poll, the Trojans became the first such team since 1964 to end the year out of the Top 25. The contrarian opinion Kevin Gemmell offered up back in March came to fruition. And it was a complete disaster. And, yes, even worse than Ted Miller's "Worst Case." And that's pretty bad.

Best game: Depends on where your tastes lie. If you like defense, then it was Stanford's performance at Oregon, where they held the Ducks to fewer than 200 yards rushing and won in overtime. Jordan Williamson's 37-yard kick sent shock waves throughout college football. If you like offense, you have to look to the Nov. 3 shootout between Oregon and USC. The stakes weren't as high as we all thought a few months ago, but some of the league's premier offensive players showed up as the teams combined for 113 points, 68 first downs and 1,145 yards of total offense.

Ted Miller | email

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