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Pac-12 mid-season the good, the bad and the unknown: Pac-12 murky and deep thus far in 2013

2013 is already full of fireworks, controversies and questions.

Otto Greule Jr

The Good

Oregon - This might be redundant, but Oregon really good, like really f****** good. There hasn't appeared to be any drop off in the Ducks in their schedule thus far after losing Chip Kelly, and if anything they have developed a passing game that is head and shoulders above what they used to have. The offense is the best in the country and as always the defense is vastly underrated and maybe the best in the Pac-12 right now. Oh, and Marcus Mariota is the unquestioned frontrunner for the Heisman right now.

Speaking of Mariota...

Quarterbacks from the state of Oregon - Mariota may be the clear cut Heisman favorite, but don't forget about Oregon State's Sean Mannion who is playing straight up ridiculous himself right now. Mariota has been an automaton at quarterback with his supernatural ability to never throw an interception and speed that has lead to nearly 500 yards rushing and eight touchdowns and Mannion has been staggeringly prolific - more than 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns to just three interceptions in six games. Crazy to think that Mannion barely won the starting job.

Pac-12 quarterbacks in general - After a bit of a lull, the Pac-12 has returned to being the conference of the quarterback as it's not just the ones in Oregon who are lighting it up. Keith Price has returned to form, Brett Hundley is a burgeoning Heisman candidate, Kevin Hogan has unlimited star potential, Taylor Kelly still puts up crazy numbers, Travis Wilson has made a huge leap as a sophomore, Jared Goff might be the best true freshman quarterback in the nation and even B.J. Denker and Connor Halliday have had their moments.

Bishop Sankey - The nation's leading rusher basically has 900 yards halfway through the season and with the two best run defenses he will play all season already in the book (Oregon/Stanford). He put up nearly 300 yards combined against those two teams by the way and he could easily have more than 1,000 (or 1,100) had he been given more than four carries against Idaho State. Factor in that Sankey also runs behind a very pedestrian offensive line and has a quarterback that isn't a running threat and production becomes even more impressive.

Brandin Cooks - Another player with unreal production who isn't getting nearly enough national attention as he should. The speedy junior leads the nation in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns and when only considering receivers who have played six games or less this season, no one else is that close to him in those categories. He's quickly eclipsed the injury and quarterback-limited Marqise Lee as the Pac-12's, and nation's best receiver.

Pac-12 play - This season has already been loaded with excitement, spectacular offenses, phenomenal individual performances and down-to-the-wire games. The season has already produced some instant classics like Utah's upset and goal line stand against Stanford, Stanford's thrilling win over Washington, Oregon State's high-scoring overtime win over Utah, Washington State's upset over USC in The Coliseum, UCLA's inspirational comeback at Nebraska and Arizona State's mind-boggling finish against Wisconsin. Let's hope the conference hasn't already run itself out of magic.

Utah - Many (me included) thought that this would be the second-straight year where the Utes looked like they didn't belong in the conference, but we were all wrong. They swept an in-state non-conference slate that included tough games against Utah State and BYU and have looked strong in Pac-12 play thus far - nearly upsetting Oregon State and UCLA before knocking off Stanford. The Utes truly belong.

Deans of the Pac-12 - The Pac-12 is loaded with very new coaches and while guys like Mark Helfrich, Jim Mora and David Shaw seem to be hogging most of the attention and accolades, the elder statesmen of the conference - Mike Riley and Kyle Whittingham and even Steve Sarkisian to an extent, are looking good at the moment. Riley's team is looking better and better each week like they seem to each year, Whittingham's team is showing up in a make-or-break year and Sarkisian has the Huskies at 4-2 with their toughest games behind them.

The Bad

Lane Kiffin - I was one of the few that thought that the Trojans were capable of a rebound under Kiffin this year - oh how wrong I was. Kiffin stumbled out the gate, fumbling the starting quarterback position by not really naming a starter, and then his offense couldn't muster up anything against questionable defenses. Everything was such a mess, that Kiffin got fired about as early in the season as I ever remember a Pac-12 coach getting canned even though the team had a winning record. He then capped it all off by giving an awkward, quasi audition on Gameday last weekend in Seattle.

Pac-12 refs - It has been a rough start for the Pac-12 official thus far. Not only have they had some high-profile gaffes, they have been torn apart by fans and commentators only seemingly every call and look rattled when they announce penalties.

Injuries - I know that these are inevitable and just part of the game, but I feel like injuries have struck some of the conference's most exciting stars and robbed Pac-12 fans. Okay, probably just De'Anthony Thomas and Marqise Lee, but the two were probably the two most-exciting players in the conference coming into the season and I feel like we've barely gotten to see them do their thing in the past few weeks.

Cal's defense - Even when they were struggling overall, the Bears always seemed to have strong defenses under Jeff Tedford, but that aspect of the Bears quickly vanished this season after the Bears have had the worst defense in the conference. Injuries have gutted the Bear defense, and they have faced a tough early-season schedule, but I don't think anyone expected them to be dead last in both pass and run defense.

Scheduling Eastern Washington - Can Pac-12 schools please stop scheduling these guys? They are one of the best programs in the FCS and after coming oh so close to knocking off Washington and Washington State in back-to-back years, they finally scored their upset against Oregon State this year, giving their résumé a major black eye for the rest of the year. Northwest schools should especially avoid the Eagles since their team is full of guys who wanted offers from the Northwest Pac-12 schools and didn't get them. Wait... Washington has them on the schedule again in 2014. Foolish Huskies...

The Unknown

Stanford's defense - Stanford came into 2013 with as talented, experienced, big and nasty of a defensive roster as I have seen in the Pac-12 since the Pete Carroll glory days at USC but they have been anything but stellar so far this year. The Cardinal are only fifth in scoring defense thus far and seventh in total defense - giving up 379 yards per-game. Is the Stanford defense simply succumbing to the pace of modern college football offenses or will they be able to clean it up before they face Oregon?

Will Sutton - The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year has been quiet thus far this season, particularly in sacks and tackles-for-loss after leading the conference in both categories in 2012. A lot of his statistics likely can be attributed to offenses shifting their attention to stopping and avoiding him, but some have also suggested that he added bad weight in the off-season. Sutton isn't in the Top 20 of either sacks or tackles-for-loss in the conference right now, wasn't suggested for almost every mid-season All-America team and is leader of a very poor Arizona State run defense. Can he turn it up in the second half of the season?

USC & Ed Orgeron - For most of last Thursday game against Arizona, it appeared as if USC finally looked like the team they were supposed to as they smashed the Wildcats in The Coliseum and looked like they were having fun without the visored-shadow of Lane Kiffin. However, the jury is still out on just how strong the Wildcats themselves will be this year and the Trojans let them back into the game just make sure everyone couldn't be too confident about if they would truly improve without Kiffin.

Oregon's National Championship - The Ducks have been about as close to winning a national championship without winning one the past four years as I think a Pac-12 team has ever been. The Ducks have looked as good as they ever had thus far this season and look completely unbeatable, BUT, everyone has felt that way about the Ducks at this point of the season the past couple of years only to have them drop a conference game in November. Is this the year they finally don't fall to that fate?

Washington - The Huskies came out of the gate looking like they may have turned the corner under Steve Sarkisian as they won games against Boise State, Illinois and Arizona convincingly, but they dropped back-to-back games against Stanford and Oregon to close the first half of the season. Most seem to think that the Huskies are finally back to being a Top 15 program, but they are going to have to prove that in the second half by beating other Pac-12 middle-dwellers like Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon State.

De'Anthony Thomas & Marqise Lee - Two conference's two most purely dynamic players next to Mariota have been sidelined the past few weeks and generally less productive than they were last season even before the injuries. Will they be able to get healthy and not only help their teams, but provide the highlight reel plays that Pac-12 fans are used to seeing them produce.

Early declarers - Okay, we won't know about these guys until after the season, but the Pac-12 has as many guys who will be facing the legitimate decision about whether or not to go pro for the 2014 NFL Draft. It's going to be a fascinating off-season in that regard and the second half of the season and how these guys perform, could very well shape the balance of power for the Pac-12 in 2014. Here is just the cream of the crop of who will have to decide whether or not to declare and could easily be first rounders - Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Bishop Sankey, Kevin Hogan, David Yankey, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Brandin Cooks, Scott Crichton, De'Anthony Thomas, Marqise Lee, Ka'Deem Carey, etc...