There are 39 bowl games plus a national championship this year, but with the college football regular season finished, let's take stock of the regular season, conference by conference, with league awards and grades for every Power Five team. The series already covered the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12. We continue with the Pac-12.
Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Love, RB, Stanford. Love doesn't provide the receiving or return production that Christian McCaffrey did, but he couldn't have done a better job replacing McCaffrey as a pure running back. The junior showed big-time potential as McCaffrey's backup, had a big Sun Bowl with McCaffrey sitting out last year and then emerged as one of the nation's top players as the full-time starter. Despite dealing with an ankle injury that slowed him down in the second half of the season, Love has 237 carries for 1,937 yards and 17 TDs. He averages 8.3 yards per carry, and he has 23 rushes of at least 30 yards -- eight more than any other player. It all added up to a trip to New York and a deserved second-place finish in the Heisman Trophy vote.
Defensive Player of the Year: Uchenna Nwosu, LB, USC. This is a difficult call, as one of the star defensive tackles -- Washington State's Hercules Mata'afa, Washington's Vita Vea or Stanford's Harrison Phillips -- could easily get the honor, too. But we'll go with Nwosu, a 6-foot-2, 240-pound force off the edge who broke out as a star as a senior in his second season starting. Nwosu has racked up 71 tackles, 9 ½ tackles for loss, 7 ½ sacks, an interception and, most impressively, 13 pass breakups as he constantly disrupted opposing passing games.
Coach of the Year: Clay Helton, USC. There's no obvious winner, so let's give it to the coach of the best team. Helton was met with skepticism when promoted to head coach, but after a rough 1-3 start to the 2016 season, he has led the Trojans to wins in 20 of 22 games, including the Rose Bowl last year and a run to the Pac-12 title this year. Yes, the Trojans fell slightly short of expectations in that they didn't make the playoff, but Helton has stabilized USC football and won its first conference championship since 2008.
Freshman of the Year: Colin Schooler, LB, Arizona. The true freshman linebacker quickly emerged as a standout on the Wildcats' defense. He's second on the team with 88 tackles and tied for fourth in the Pac-12 with 13 ½ tackles for loss. Schooler has also intercepted two passes, returning one 66 yards for a touchdown in the win over Washington State. Schooler's closest competition is teammate J.J. Taylor, who's been overshadowed by Khalil Tate but has rushed for 828 yards and five TDs.
How successful should this season be viewed by each team? Grades for each team's season reflect 2017 achievements within the context of program history and expectations.
USC (11-2): A-. No, the season didn't go exactly as hoped. The Trojans opened the season ranked No. 4 in the AP poll, with playoff aspirations. They fell short of that, and star QB Sam Darnold didn't live up to the preseason Heisman favorite expectations, either. But this has still been USC's best season in nearly a decade: Clay Helton led the Trojans to their first 11-win season and first conference championship since 2008, Pete Carroll's second-to-last year at USC. The Trojans won at least 11 games with at least a share of the Pac-10 title every year from 2002-08. Now, on the other side of NCAA sanctions, they've returned to the top of what's now the Pac-12, also becoming the first South Division team to win the conference title game since it started in 2011. A blowout loss to Notre Dame hurt, as did an injury-plagued Friday night loss at Washington State. But the Trojans beat Stanford twice and topped Texas and UCLA in a mostly solid season in which they re-established themselves as the top program in the Pac-12. It's not a national championship, but it's a step forward.
Washington (10-2): B+. It's been a rather nondescript good season for Washington, which is something to be appreciated. Although the Huskies took a step back after winning the Pac-12 and going to the playoff in 2016, let's not get greedy. From 2002-15, the Huskies had one top-25 season, missed the postseason seven times and never lost fewer than four games. Over the past two years, they're now 22-4 with back-to-back major bowl appearances. Washington was unable to take advantage of a relatively weak schedule, with an ugly offensive performance leading to a loss at Arizona State and a loss to Stanford denying it a division title. But despite some key injuries on offense, it's 20th nationally in yards per play and, more impressively, second nationally in yards per play allowed after losing several key defenders. The Huskies crushed top rivals Oregon and Washington State again, and they're heading to the Fiesta Bowl. After a long down period, Washington has been elevated to a stable place as a Pac-12 contender under Chris Petersen.
Washington State (9-3): B+. Here's something that's not usually said about a Mike Leach team: Washington State's defense has been ahead of the offense. Under coordinator Alex Grinch, the Cougars rank 28th in yards per play allowed on defense. The offense was occasionally prolific, but it was also more inconsistent than expected, as senior QB Luke Falk ranks 55th in passer rating and the unit ranks 68th in yards per play. The Cougars looked a bit different and had a few frustrating results as they were blown out by Washington, California and Arizona. Still, Leach has revived Washington State football. From 2004-14, the Cougars went 11 straight seasons without finishing with a winning record. The past three years: 9-4, 8-5 and 9-3, with a chance in the Holiday bowl to get to 10 wins for the first time since three straight 10-win seasons from 2001-03. Washington State beat Boise State, USC, Stanford and Oregon, and despite some low moments, this has a chance to be the team's best season in over a decade.
Stanford (9-4): B. For the fifth time in nine years, Stanford's team was led by a Heisman runner-up. This time, it's been tailback Bryce Love, who did a phenomenal job filling the shoes of 2015 Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey, at least in the running game. Love is knocking on the door of 2,000 yards thanks to his big-play ability, and he was the clear leader of a team that otherwise had mixed results on offense and ranks 86th in defensive yards per play despite the presence of some impressive individual talent. Stanford beat out Washington and Washington State for the Pac-12 North championship, and it ended its regular season with an impressive win over Notre Dame. But it also got swept in two meetings with USC and fell to San Diego State and Washington State to finish 9-4. Moving forward, K.J. Costello did flash positive signs at quarterback upon ascending to the starting job. Given the high standard set in recent years, this was just a solid, above-average Stanford football season.
Arizona (7-5): B. Arizona's season can't help but be hindered by a "what-if": What if Khalil Tate started the whole season? The dynamic quarterback didn't become the Wildcats' primary quarterback until Brandon Dawkins left the Oct. 7 game against Colorado. At that point, Arizona had a 2-2 record with losses to Houston and Utah. Tate proceeded to rush for 327 yards against Colorado, 230 against UCLA, 137 against California and 146 against Washington State during a four-game October winning streak. Of course, despite the efforts of Tate, Arizona lost three of its last four games, and his absurd production finally slowed down in the last two games against Oregon and Arizona State. But even though he barely played in September, Tate had one of the most memorable seasons in school history, with 1,353 rushing yards and an average of 10.2 yards per carry. His efforts allowed Arizona to improve from 3-9 to 7-5 and keep coach Rich Rodriguez around for another season.
Arizona State (7-5): B-. For a moment, let's try to look past the absurdity of a coaching search in which Arizona State 1) paid a large buyout to fire Todd Graham, 2) hired Herm Edwards with a bizarre press release and 3) lost both coordinators after announcing that it planned to retain them. Graham's last season itself was a step in the right direction: The Sun Devils improved from 5-7 to 7-5, and their defense at least showed some signs of improvement after a disastrous 2016. They got off to a rough start with nonconference losses to San Diego State and Texas Tech, but they bounced back to go 6-3 in Pac-12 play, with wins over Oregon, Washington and Arizona, to finish alone in second place in the Pac-12 South. Sure, there were flaws, and perhaps Graham isn't the ideal coach for the job, but the Sun Devils achieved solid improvement during the regular season before becoming a punch line during the coaching carousel.
California (5-7): C+. A strong start with nonconference wins over North Carolina and Ole Miss fizzled out in Pac-12 play, for the most part. In the debut season under new coach Justin Wilcox, Cal went just 2-7 in conference games, although it did pull off one of the most memorable upsets of the season when it crushed Washington State 37-3. The other conference win came against Oregon State. Despite the record, Cal was competitive and more complete than it had been under Sonny Dykes. It lost by a total of seven points to Arizona, Stanford and UCLA and improved from 122nd to 80th in yards per play allowed on defense. Lackluster defense was a huge issue under Dykes, and Wilcox showed that a turnaround is possible. The unit wasn't dominant, but it made enormous strides, setting the stage for a possible return to bowl eligibility next season.
Oregon (7-6): C+. Given that the Ducks' defense took a massive leap forward under new coordinator Jim Leavitt -- from 115th to 32nd in yards per play allowed -- the 7-6 record after a Las Vegas Bowl loss to Boise State does feel a bit disappointing. After all, the Ducks had an improved line, RB Royce Freeman returned for his senior season and QB Justin Herbert looked like a rising star. Of course, the 7-6 record is partially a result of bad luck: Herbert broke his collarbone and missed five games in which the Oregon offense became one-dimensional and the team went 1-4, scoring 14 points or less in all four of those losses. In that sense, it was a bad-luck season in which Herbert often looked like a star when healthy. The end of the year was subsequently marred by the departure of head coach Willie Taggart to Florida State after just a year. The bowl performance was rough, but the Ducks will move forward with as much continuity as they can muster, promoting interim coach Mario Cristobal and offering a pay boost to Leavitt to get him to stay to continue the defense's growth.
Utah (6-6): C. After three straight top-25 seasons, Utah fell back this year, with a defense that wasn't as disruptive as usual and an offense that achieved mixed results in a revamped scheme under new coordinator Troy Taylor. The Utes went 3-0 against a weak nonconference schedule and just 3-6 against Pac-12 opponents, beating a pre-Khalil Tate Arizona, plus UCLA and Colorado. Four of the six losses were close against currently ranked teams (Stanford, USC, Washington State, Washington), but the season fell apart with back-to-back late-October losses by double digits to Arizona State and Oregon. The result was a mostly unmemorable season in which the team was solid but unspectacular on both sides of the ball, ranking 56th in yards per play on offense 38th on defense.
Colorado (5-7): C. Mike MacIntyre and his staff did a fantastic job building the Buffaloes for a breakthrough in 2016, but after 10 consecutive losing seasons turned into a 10-4 campaign with a Pac-12 South title, regression in 2017 was unavoidable. It was especially unavoidable because Colorado nine of its top 13 tacklers and coordinator Jim Leavitt from a defense that was the backbone of the breakout season. Yes, Colorado did a fantastic job with player development, but it has been one of the least successful Power Five recruiters, which made reloading impossible. The defense plummeted from 16th to 95th in yards per play allowed, and experience on offense wasn't enough to offset that decline, as the Buffaloes averaged 26.4 points per game. After winning a total of five conference games in their first five years in the Pac-12, Colorado went 8-2 in league play in 2016. This year, it fell back to a typical 2-7 mark within the conference.
UCLA (6-6): C-. Josh Rosen will presumably go pro before the Chip Kelly era begins, and the Jim Mora era will mostly be remembered for UCLA failing to capitalize on the presence of a prized pro prospect quarterback. The Bruins went 8-5 in his freshman season in 2015, then fell to 4-8 last year, when Rosen missed the second half of the season with an injury but the offensive line struggled all year. This year, UCLA started the season with the second-biggest comeback ever, erasing a 34-point deficit to beat Texas A&M, but it still finished just 6-6. Rosen has thrown for 3,756 yards and 26 TDs without much support, as the running game has been unreliable again and the defense collapsed to 118th in points allowed. UCLA allowed over 40 points in five of its six losses, after allowing more than 40 just once during the uglier 2016 campaign. This season made clear that UCLA needs a fresh start, and it will get that with the arrival of Kelly as the new head coach.
Oregon State (1-11): F. The Beavers went from 2-10 to 4-8 in Gary Andersen's first two seasons. They hoped to jump to bowl eligibility in his third season. Instead, Andersen abruptly quit after a 1-5 start that included a 34-point loss to Minnesota and a 31-point loss to Colorado State, with the only win coming by three points against Portland State, an FCS team. Under interim coach Cory Hall, the Beavers went 0-6, coming close to pulling off wins against Colorado and Stanford but ultimately ending the season with a 69-10 loss at Oregon to finish winless in the Pac-12. Just about everything went wrong, as the Beavers rank 104th in yards per play on offense and 120th on defense. They're 126th in Football Outsiders' S&P+ ratings and 119th in the Massey composite, meaning that new coach Jonathan Smith -- who led the Beavers to their best season ever as quarterback in 2000 -- has his work cut out for him.
Sports on Earth All-Pac 12 Team
QB: Khalil Tate, Arizona
RB: Bryce Love, Stanford
RB: Ronald Jones, USC
WR: N'Keal Harry, Arizona State
WR: Deontay Burnett, USC
WR: Dante Pettis, Washington
OL: Tyrell Crosby, Oregon
OL: Nate Herbig, Stanford
OL: Cody O'Connell, Washington State
OL: Coleman Shelton, Washington
OL: David Bright, Stanford
DL: Hercules Mata'afa, Washington State
DL: Vita Vea, Washington
DL: Harrison Phillips, Stanford
DL: Rasheem Green, USC
LB: Uchenna Nwosu, USC
LB: Troy Dye, Oregon
LB: Cameron Smith, USC
CB: Isaiah Oliver, Colorado
CB: Quenton Meeks, Stanford
S: Justin Reid, Stanford
S: Taylor Rapp, Washington
K: Matt Gay, Utah
P: Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah