Pac-12 the good, the bad and the unknown: 2013 regular season

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Pac-12 quarterbacks, running backs and linebackers were some of the best in the history of the conference in 2013.

The Good

Bowl eligible - Three-fourths of the Pac-12 teams were selected for bowl games giving conference fans a ton of college football to watch around holiday season. The amount of selections is a huge testament to how strong the conference was top to bottom this year as the Pac-12 offered up the most teams of any conference that has 12 or fewer members.

Balance of power - After half a decade of a conference that really seemed to be just Oregon and Stanford, the rest of the conference took a major step forward, and the middle of the Pac-12 is finally as strong as it has ever been. For example, if USC and Washington win their bowls, half of the conference could end up being ranked at the end of the season.

Pac-12 quarterbacks - The Pac-12 is known as a conference known for great quarterbacks and this season was a great example as quarterbacks with the level of production and skill of Brett Hundley and Sean Mannion didn't even make first or second All-Pac-12. I can't remember a year where it seemed like there were as many good quarterbacks in the conference. Case in point, I wouldn't even put Connor Halliday or Kevin Hogan in the top half of 2013 Pac-12 QBs.

The return of the Washington schools - Youngsters may not realize it, but there was a time in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s when the Washington schools were consistently two of the best in the conference. For about 10 years though, both floundered as much as any programs ever have so it was really nice to see Washington finally get past the seven-win barrier for the first time since 2001 and for Washington State to get to a bowl for the first time since 2003.

Pac-12 running backs - When you have players like Marion Grice and Tyler Gaffney not making first team All-Pac-12, I think you can pretty much say that it was the best season for Pac-12 running backs in the history of the conference. Bishop Sankey and Ka'Deem Carey may be the two best running backs in the country, and Gaffney and Grice are right there too. Oh, and don't forget about the rest of the great backs in the conference like Javorious Allen, Byron Marshall, Tre Madden and others.

Non-conference - The conference showed up in a big way early in the season when facing opponents from other conferences, losing only six total games and doing well against power conferences like the Big 10, SEC and ACC while dominating the Mountain West, going 10-0 against the West's little brother. Now, the Pac-12 gets another chance to show its strength with a bowl slate in which they could realistically win every game.

Pac-12 linebackers - Take a look at the first team All-Pac-12 team linebackers and you see three absolute studs that could easily be the first team All-American linebackers in Trent Murphy, Anthony Barr and Shayne Skov. Pac-12 fans should really appreciate the level of phenomenal linebacker play that was in the conference this year.

The Bad

No national championship contender - For most of the season, it looked like Oregon and Stanford would once again be right in the thick of the national title hunt, but then a road upset derailed Stanford and Stanford derailed Oregon. Both easily could have gotten right back into the thick of it too, but suffered late upsets that kept the Pac-12 from being anywhere near the national championship conversation.

Marqise Lee & De'Anthony Thomas' struggles - Lee and Thomas came into the season as serious Heisman candidates and two of the most exciting players to ever play in the conference, but both ended up battling injuries and having very forgettable seasons. Even if you aren't fans of their respective teams, Pac-12 fans missed out on some exciting plays with them limited in 2013.

Cal - Man that was a disaster in Berkeley - one close win over a bad FCS program, regularly blowouts, a string of never-ending injuries, a horrific graduation rate and locker room brawls made up one of the worst seasons for a Pac-12 team in a while.

Oregon State's second half - The Beavers went away once the schedule strengthened and embarrassed themselves thoroughly in a blowout loss to Washington along with a heartbreaking loss in The Civil War. The Beavers were 6-1 at one point, but will end up finishing with a losing record if they can't beat Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl.

Lane Kiffin - I was one of the few that thought that Kiffin might be able to turn things around this season and boy did he not do that, getting fired in September. To make matters worse for Kiffin, Ed Orgeron showed that he had the talent to actually succeed but was just a horrible coach and he had an incredibly awkward performance on GameDay in Seattle.

Pac-12 refs - I swear this is the last time I am going to lament about it this season, but the Pac-12 refs were regularly horrible and made it really hard to watch a lot of Pac-12 games.

The Unknown

National championship future - With both Stanford falling out of the national championship picture this year and the Ducks looking like they might regress a little bit under Mark Helfrich and Stanford losing a massive amount of talent and experience, it is unknown how much the Pac-12 will be in the national title chase the next couple of years. Can Oregon stay in the hunt even with their changes? Can Stanford stay in the hunt even with their losses? Or, can another program step up?

Underclassmen - Some underclassmen have already started declaring for the draft, or declaring their return, but it will probably be another month before we know exactly who is staying and who is going and how it will shape the conference next season.

Coaching carousel - The wild and crazy carousel of coaching has already started with Steve Sarkisian heading from Washington USC and Chris Petersen heading to Washington. It could end right there, but don't count anything out yet, especially if Todd Graham becomes a candidate for the Texas job.

USC - The conference's most prestigious program continues to be uncertain after hiring a coach that was perpetually above average in the Pac-12 for five years. Will Sarkisian be able to step up his game and lead the Trojans back to prominence.

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