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The good, the bad & the unknown: 2015 Pac-12 football season

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It was a damn fun season in the Pac-12.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Bowl season is still left, but with a couple of long, boring weeks of college-football-less life in front of us, it's time to reflect on the 2015 Pac-12 regular season.

The Good

Games - Week-to-week, this was simply the most fun season I can remember. The parity and strength of the middle of the conference seemed to produce great game after great game. It seemed each Saturday night was a showcase for Pac-12 magic. Also, the biggest games were some of the best as the gap between teams really narrowed.

The Christian McCaffrey revolution - The sophomore put together maybe the best overall season a Pac-12 player ever has. He was the second coming of Reggie Bush and really helped completely turn around Stanford's offense.

The Kevin Hogan revolution - The Cardinal are a five-loss team again if Kevin Hogan doesn't finally turn the corner as a senior. It was great to see the much-maligned QB turn into one of the conference's best quarterbacks after an ugly opener against Northwestern and he was really the piece that put it all together for Stanford this year.

The Stanford offensive line revolution - One of the reasons, Stanford underachieved last year was the underachievement of their highly-touted offensive line. That was not the case this year. Joshua Garnett went from just a pretty solid guard to probably the best in the nation and players like Graham Shuler, Johnny Caspers and Casey Tucker took that next step to boost the Stanford offensive line.

Parity - It has its downsides, but parity made the conference a lot more fun this year and did help the conference earn some respect by going 10 teams deep. The days of USC and everyone else of Oregon and Stanford and everyone else are long gone and that is a great thing.

Division races - The North was in play until Stanford's final conference game and wild card Washington State being in the hunt was really fun. The South went down to a final play-in rivalry game and the entire power landscape in the division seemed to change every week.

Quarterbacks - The conference was beyond loaded with great quarterbacks. Case in point, Cody Kessler didn't even make honorable mention All-Pac-12 in my selections. It wouldn't have been crazy to say the five best quarterbacks in the nation played in the Pac-12 and really good QBs like Mike Bercovici, Josh Rosen and Jake Browning didn't even get much attention because there were just too many other stars.

Running backs - The Pac-12's great quarterbacks were handing off to some excellent running backs this year. Six Pac-12 backs broke the 1,000-yard barrier and Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman were arguably the two best running backs in the country. Also, try to find a better second-team combo than Paul Perkins and Devontae Booker.

Oregon's bounce back - For a couple of weeks it did look like the Duck ship was finally burning - they opened up Pac-12 play with a 1-2 record with an absolute clownstomping from Utah and a loss to Washington State that at the time looked really bad, The quarterback situation was abysmal and their defense was bad in an epic way. Then, Vernon Adams got healthy and clicked, Darren Carrington came back, the defense got a little bit better each week, they got some breaks and they won their final six games of the season.The Ducks easily could have been the best team in the conference when the regular season wrapped up.

DeForest Buckner - Buckner filled the defensive star void left by injuries to Myles Jack and Scooby Wright. He was the easy choice for Defensive Player of the Year and coming back for his senior year really saved the Oregon defense from not being even worse. No defensive player was more valuable to any Pac-12 defense.

Cal & Utah's starts - Cal and Utah were undefeated and looking like division champion contenders when they met in early-October. For a while there, it looked like Cal had come full circle under Sonny Dykes with Jared Goff and the Utes were almost guaranteed to win the South.

USC's recovery - The Trojans weren't able to come full circle and win the conference, but winning the South and getting the Holiday Bowl again was a major accomplishment for a program that was in utter disarray very early in the season. Whether or not you like the Clay Helton hire, he did a great job of turning the season around.

Washington's defense - Washington's defense was a statistical juggernaut. They gave up an average of just 17 points per-game (four points less than the second-best), gave up less than 350 yards per-game and gave up just nine touchdown passes all season. These stats are particularly impressive seeing how easily teams put up points and yards now in college football and considering they lost four defensive players in the first 40 picks of the 2015 NFL Draft and lost six of seven starters in their front seven from 2014.

The Bad

Pac-12 refs - This continues to be so bad it needs to explanation and the fact that it needs no explanation is bad.

Injuries galore - Way too many Pac-12 players, especially great  ones, missed  way too many games this season. Maybe it just seemed like it, but it sure seemed like this was the worst year for high-profile injuries that I can remember.

No Playoff - It's official, the Pac-12 is not in the Playoff and while I do think Stanford is one of the best four teams  in the country on any given Saturday, I can't knock them for not pushing them above one of the undefeated or one-loss teams that beat them out. It was all their for the Cardinal, they just couldn't quite get it done.

Sarkisian's meltdown - I had heard quite a bit of off-the-field stories about Sarkisian's love of drinking and chasing women so I wasn't shocked when signs of this started to pop up right before the season, but I was shocked with how fast and how hard it hit when the wheels finally came off the wagon. I don't think anyone saw Sark not making it halfway through the season and getting shipped off to rehab.

Cal & Utah's finishes - It was fitting Utah walked away with a sloppy win when these teams met up early in the season undefeated and riding high because both teams finished the season in sloppy fashion with the Utes doing a little better job of it.

Oregon State - I thought the Beavers would struggle in Gary Andersen's first year regardless of how good of a job he did, but I didn't expect them to struggle as mightily as they did. The only sign of life they showed all season was roaring back in The Civil War, but they still came up short.

Oregon's defense - The Oregon defense made a lot of strides in the middle of the season, but they were overall as bad as you could ever imagine a defense being for a Top 15-20 team. Imagine what they would have done had Buckner not come back for his senior season?

The Unknown

Pac-12 Championship Game? This thing simply has yet to seem to work. It has yet to produce a transcendent game that justifies its existence and seems to be unnecessary with a nine-game conference schedule.

Undefeated bowl season? The chances for a 10-0 bowl season seem about as high as they could be. I don't see a matchup right now where I wouldn't bet on the Pac-12 team to win.

Clay Helton? I have already commended Helton for the job he did turning around USC this year, but was that enough to snag the job? I really don't know. I think he could do a great job, but I also think this was the third-straight strange hire by the Trojans and one that barely made a blip on the radar in the crowded LA sports scene in which USC is rapidly becoming irrelevant.

Coaching carousel? The carousel came to the Pac-12 early with Sark leaving and Helton signing on, but right now, it looks like that might be it for 2015. Crazy, when just a few days ago it looked like a number of Pac-12 coaches could be on the move. Things aren't completely over yet, but I am shocked we haven't seen more happen.

National position? Was the Pac-12 the best conference in the country this year? I would argue deepest conference in the nation to the death, but I don't know if I would quite say the best overall. But then again, I don't know what conference I would say is better.

Colorado? It was another kind of floundering season for Colorado. They made some improvement, but not much in the win column and not enough for me to go all in on Mark MacIntyre. At the same time, the program is miles ahead of where it used to be, so I don't really know what to think.

The future? The Pac-12 power hierarchy seems to perpetually be stuck before a crossroads. It keeps seeming like Oregon and Stanford will at least take the small step back logic would suggest they both should, but every year it seems like they hang on for "at least another year." The logical power USC seems to be stuck in underwhelming hire-disaster-repeat - mode, UCLA may have peaked under Mora, the Arizona schools are always the same (up years when you expect down, down years when you expect up), despite their nice start I still don't know if Utah fits long-term, Cal just doesn't seem to care enough about football for long term success, Washington is young for about the 12th-straight year, Colorado doesn't care about football and Oregon State and Washington State are two of the hardest places to win in the power five. I don't know what is going to happen moving forward.

2016 Playoff contenders - Last year after the regular season, it was fairly clear - Oregon could remain a Playoff contender if they could get a quarterback to do some of the things Marcus Mariota could do, USC was a (misguided) early Playoff favorite and Stanford and UCLA looked like contenders if they could each have a couple of things happen. Now, looking at next year's projected depth charts, I don't know if I see a Pac-12 team that will get any preseason Playoff buzz?