Recapping the Pac-12 action on and off the field …
News of the week I: Stanford coach David ShawShortly after midnight, following the final game of the Pac-12’s regular season, Shaw announced he was stepping down from the post he has held for 12 years. The four-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, three-time conference champion and two-time Rose Bowl winner explained simply that it “was time.” For sure, back-to-back 3-9 seasons will make it “time,” but the sport is rapidly passing Stanford by. Unless the university adjusts to the transfer portal, the football program will flounder regardless of who’s in charge.
News of the week II: Arizona State coach Kenny Dillingham
Early this morning, the Sun Devils made the long-expected Dillingham hire official (after numerous reports connected him to the job Saturday evening). The ASU graduate and Phoenix native will be the youngest head coach in major college football. In every regard, he’s the opposite of Herm Edwards — and that’s good news for ASU. All the 32-year-old has to do moving forward is prevent the top players from bolting to the transfer portal, recharge high school recruiting, navigate the pending NCAA sanctions and win loads more games than he loses.
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Theme of the week I: Las Vegas bound
In a fitting end to this wild season, the Pac-12 championship matchup wasn’t settled until 11 p.m. on the final Saturday, when Washington’s victory in the Apple Cup propelled Utah into the title matchup against USC in a rematch of their October thriller (won by Utah, 43-42). To qualify for the fourth time in five years, the Utes needed a string of results that appeared reasonable on an individual basis but, in totality, was somewhat remote: victories by Utah, UCLA, Washington and Oregon State.
Theme of the week II: The CFP awaits
The Pac-12 is one victory from ending its College Football Playoff drought. The Trojans are well positioned for a berth in the semifinals if they handle Utah on Friday night. As a 12-1 Power Five champion with a quality loss and back-to-back-to-back wins over ranked opponents to end the season, their resume would easily clear the bar (especially given the results in the ACC, SEC and Big Ten).
Game of the week: Oregon State 38, Oregon 34
For all the pulsating matchups this season between teams in the top half of the conference, the ledger was lacking a next-level comeback … until Oregon State delivered on Saturday afternoon. The Beavers rallied from a 31-10 deficit late in the third quarter and scored 28 of the game’s final 31 points. OSU made every right move down the stretch while the Ducks made every wrong move. In the end, the Beavers secured their first nine-win season since 2012 and Jonathan Smith made his final compelling case for Pac-12 Coach of the Year.
Game of the week II: Arizona 38, ASU 35
An entertaining back-and-forth affair ended with the Wildcats scoring the winning touchdown with nine minutes remaining to claim the Territorial Cup for the first time since 2016. The Sun Devils outplayed Arizona for long stretches but were undone by five turnovers and Wildcats tailback Michael Wiley, who rushed for 214 yards and three touchdowns. The teams combined for 18 penalties and multiple ejections in the 96th edition of the nastiest rivalry in the conference.
Dare of the week: Oregon State
It was apparent in the third quarter that the game was too big for OSU quarterback Ben Gulbranson, who threw two interceptions and was erratic in the pocket. So the Beavers turned to their running game, exclusively: They did not attempt a pass in the final quarter-and-a-half of action. And yet the Ducks were helpless to do anything about it, just as they were helpless to stop Washington’s aerial game two weeks earlier. Add a series of Oregon mistakes — not to mention inexplicable coaching decisions — and the Beavers produced a comeback that will live forever in series history.
Knife twist of the month: Washington
The Huskies carved up Washington State’s stout defense to collect their 10th victory of coach Kalen DeBoer’s first season, a remarkable turnaround worthy of Coach of the Year consideration. Even better for the Huskies, they foiled Oregon’s plans for the second time in three weeks: On Nov. 12, Washington knocked the Ducks out of the playoff race; on Nov. 26, Washington knocked the Ducks out of the Pac-12 title chase.
Heisman Trophy performance of the week: USC QB Caleb Williams
It’s difficult to name a single Heisman-worthy sequence because Williams has produced so many in recent weeks. With 11 wins, 34 touchdown passes and just three interceptions, the Oklahoma transfer stands as the Heisman frontrunner heading into championship weekend. If the Trojans beat Utah and Williams plays reasonably well — he has some cushion in that regard — then USC will claim its eighth Heisman and the Pac-12 will have its first since Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in 2014.
Pac-12 Player of the Year performance of the week: Washington QB Michael Penix
Facing one of the top defenses in the conference, Penix capped his stellar season with an aerial tour de force: He threw for 485 yards and three touchdowns and averaged 11.3 yards-per-attempt. Time and again, the Indiana transfer made NFL-level throws downfield to both open and covered receivers. Any other season, Penix would be a lock for Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
Stat of the week: USC -2
The Trojans are an early two-point favorite over Utah in the championship, according to DraftKings. We can hope for a taut finish, but history has other ideas. Only twice in the 11 previous editions has the game been decided by three points or less: Stanford beat UCLA 27-24 in 2012, while USC beat Stanford 31-28 in 2017. In fact, seven of the 11 games have resulted in double-digit victory margins.
Stat of the season: Pac-12 win totals
Two teams have secured 10 victories (USC and Washington) while four more are sitting on nine wins entering the postseason: Utah, Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA. The last time the conference produced four 10-game winners was 2016. The last time it produced five? Back in 2013. The last time it produced six? Never.