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2014 season Pac-12 The Good, The Bad & The Unknown: The conference rises up

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A good, the bad and unknown for the entire 2014 Pac-12 season.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Warning: It has been probably the best year for Pac-12 since I started writing for Pacific Takes so this is going to be long, but I promise you, it will be worth it.

The Good

Oregon's bounce back - The choir was singing the slow and steady decline Oregon football in early-October after their home loss to Arizona that was part of a very unDucklike run of Pac-12 games from late-2013 to early-2014, but it was not to be. The Ducks dominated the regular season the rest of the way in as convincing fashion as they ever have. Massive credit goes to Mark Helfrich, Jake Fisher and the entire Oregon program for turning things around and getting to the championship game.

The Oregon system - The massive rash of injuries that Oregon sustained in 2014 before the season and during the season and their ability to still make it to the championship game is the ultimate testament to me about their overall system. Other than for a couple early games without Fisher, no matter who went down, whoever the Ducks inserted seemed to do just as well. The Ducks have something magical going on in Eugene and at least to me, this was the season that defined that magic.

Marcus Mariota - It was unfair to see a quarterback with the physical tools of Mariota play in his fourth year in the Oregon system. There were times on his way to winning the Heisman where it seemed like defenses might as well not even try to stop the Duck offense when Mariota was rolling.

Oregon's Rose Bowl statement - The Ducks may not have won it all, but their 59-20 near-flawless walloping of Florida State on college football's grandest stage was an excellent exclamation point on good bowl season performance by the Pac-12. Oregon's dismantling of Jameis Winston and the Seminoles is one that will long live in Pac-12 lore.

Okay, enough about solely Oregon...

Pac-12 bowl performance - The Pac-12 solidified a claim to be the nation's best conference by going 6-2 in bowl games and 6-3 if you count the championship game. Arizona and Washington failed to show up early in their bowl games, but at least they were able to cut it their games to one-possession differences, saving the conference from any embarrassment.

South race - Watching and trying to decipher the five-team race for the Pac-12 South was one of the most purely fun races in recent Pac-12 history.

Fantastic finishes - We had two different pun plays on the phrase "Hail Mary" in one season. Enough said.

Pac-12 quarterback stats - The stat lines for Pac-12 quarterbacks were simply ridiculous this season from all across the conference. Mariota may have gotten most of the attention for his big stat lines, but Connor Halliday, Jared Goff, Cody Kessler, Brett Hundley, Luke Falk, even Sefo Liufau and company regularly had stat lines that looked fake.

Scooby Wright - This was a treat to watch and definitely earned his Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and CBS National Defensive Player of the Year honors. Bonus points for his game-ending strip of Mariota in Arizona's upset of the Ducks as being my national defensive play of the year.

Utah's resurgence - There was absolutely no buzz about the Utes going into the season and many seemed to think that they might never be a true Pac-12 contender and that Kyle Whittingham would flame out, but the Utes proved everyone wrong. The Utes emerging as a contender in the South was one of the big reasons why the Pac-12 was stronger in 2014.

Improvement in Berkeley & Boulder - I was honestly worried that Sonny Dykes could be a two-and-done in Berkeley after having one of the darkest seasons in conference history in 2013, so it was great to see the Bears turn it around and nearly make a bowl. Meanwhile, over in Boulder, it might not show up in the win column, but the Buffs had their best year since joining the Pac-12.

Arizona's luck - I have mentioned this before and I promise this is the last time and it is not to take away anything from what Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats accomplished, but the Wildcats were certainly at least the Pac-12's luckiest team this season. Two miracle play wins over Cal and Washington along with getting Oregon on the best possible week to face them while avoiding a bad match-up in Stanford really helped the Wildcats win the South.

The Bad

Pac-12 refs - Just when you thought it could not have been worse, Pac-12 officials played like a star NFL running back in a contract year.

Oregon in the Playoff Championship - For all of the impression in the Rose Bowl, the Ducks simply were unimpressive in the Championship game. They had four turnovers pretty much handed to them while getting breaks on potential ones of their own and still got smacked by 22 points and never truly felt in control of the game after the opening minutes.

Pac-12 Championship Game - All the credit goes to Oregon for getting massive revenge on Arizona, but this game was just plain not entertaining.

Injuries - This was the worst of all. The conference was robbed of way too many great players due to injuries. I am all about lowering the amount of total games in a season and this is the main reason.

Colorado's luck - The Buffs realistically could have made a bowl game if they had gotten a lot of luck, or would have at least won a couple of Pac-12 games with just a little bit. It is unfortunate that Mike MacIntyre is going to get heat for only winning two games even though his team improved greatly.

Kaelin Clay's blunder against Oregon - Not only does it hurt to see a player have to live with such a national horrible mistake, it played a big role in turning what was looking to maybe be a good game to a disinteresting one.

Jim Mora and the rumors - I am not sure if Mora is actually shopping around for jobs or not, but I am simply tired of hearing about it and the perpetual cycle of questioning whether or not he is going to stay at UCLA. It is great to have your coach be attractive to other jobs, but I cannot help but think that it is wearing thin at UCLA.

The Unknown

Oregon's zenith? The Ducks have created and maintained an unbelievable level of success for more than half a decade. With Mariota likely headed to the NFL along with a handful of other key mainstays and Chip Kelly another year removed, many are wondering if Oregon will start to at least slip down at least a little bit. It is hard not to think that this will happen, but people have thought it was going to happen to Oregon for years now and it simply hasn't. Will Oregon begin to slip at all in 2015?

Stanford's zenith? Many of the same things that people wonder about Oregon after each season have been wondered about Stanford and their eventual slide down Pac-12 Mountain and it appeared that those thoughts may have finally come true as the Cardinal finished 8-5. I have frequently pointed out that Stanford was much closer to going 11-2 than it may have seemed, but you have to wonder - have we have seen the elite window for Stanford come and go?

Steve Sarkisian at USC? Sarkisian's first season in LA was a bit of a wash. The Trojans looked great at times against bad teams, but pretty much came up short against the best competition that they faced. Sarkisian gets a bit of a pass with the scholarship reductions still remaining a crutch to lean on, but that excuse is going to quickly evaporate and expectations are going to be sky high in 2015 with the Trojans coming in as a potential Top 5 team. Can Sark finally live up to expectations and show that he is truly the guy who can bring back the glory days of USC?

Chris Petersen - Most expected Petersen to come in with his pedigree and elevate Washington past the nice platform that Sarkisian had set, but the Huskies simply were barely above average at best despite having some serious stars on their defense. Will Petersen be able to show that he is truly an elite coach at Washington, or will he follow the path of other former Boise State coaches who haven't been able to replicate their success in the Pac-12?

Oregon State - The Mike Riley situation in the past few years had been a pretty complicated one so I get the feeling that many Beaver fans are relieved that he left for a great opportunity on his own accord and they got a well-established new coach in return. Will Gary Andersen be able to replicate the success he had at Wisconsin following Bret Bielema or will we find out that Riley was actually still doing a great job at squeezing the most out of the Beavers as he could?