Washington sneaks past the rest of the conference - The Huskies won’t be remembered as an all-time great Pac-12 team, but they did what many recent David Shaw Stanford teams have done in resting players at key times, losing games they shouldn’t because their offense isn’t great in the clutch, but winning the games they really need to and getting healthy down the stretch. Well played by the Huskies this year.
Myles Gaskin - Gaskin wrapped up one of the best running back careers in conference history by cracking 1,000 yards and 10 TDs again while carrying the Huskies to a Pac-12 Championship. He showed just how valuable he truly is as he was hurt in both of Washington’s conference losses (second half against Oregon and entire Cal game).
Chris Petersen & Washington big picture - The Huskies grabbed their second Pac-12 championship in three years and secured three-straight NY6 bowls for the first time since 1990-1992. The Huskies lose quite a bit after this season, but they’re only now starting to get to the more-talented recruiting glasses Petersen and co. starting bringing in one they reached a higher level of success. Plus, Georgia transfer Jacob Eason, expected to take over for Jake Browning could be the elite QB talent they’ve lacked the past few seasons.
Washington State & Mike Leach - We all just keep doubting Mike Leach and the Cougars year-after-year, but they keep proving everyone wrong. The Cougars may not have won the conference this season, but they probably put together the best overall regular season and Leach has things rolling in Pullman better than he maybe ever did at Texas Tech. They will be a contender in the North as long as he is in Pullman.
Gardner Minshew - The grad transfer Heisman candidate brought fun to a season that flat out lacked it this year in the Pac-12. He also played some lights out football in some really big games for Washington State, leading them to 10 wins, never an easy thing to do.
Utah’s fight - I think everyone buried the Utes when Tyler Huntley AND Zack Moss went down, but they didn’t quite fighting until the final bell of the Pac-12 Championship Game where they took Washington down the wire with tough defense and fight. It didn’t end perfectly, but Kyle Whittingham did a great job in getting the most possible out of his Utah squad this season and breaking through in the South.
Unexpected stars - A lot of veteran household names came into the Pac-12 this season - Browning, Gaskin, Herbert, Love, Herbig, Tate, and Tell, but it would a lot of relative unknowns who would end up being the conference’s stars this season. Minshew, Eno Benjamin, Jermar Jefferson, C.J. Verdell, Dillon Mitchell, Andre Dillard, Laviska Shenault will fill up the all-conference teams this season and underrated QBs like Manny Wilkins and K.J. Costello actually ended up outperforming QBs like Browning, Herbert and Tate.
Herm Edwards - I think we all doubted Edwards as a college coach, but he was at least solid in his first season at ASU, almost getting the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 Championship Game. He took ASU’s talent and made the most out of it, playing with a style that was close to an NFL team.
Chip Kelly & UCLA’s rally - Pac-12 fans of non-Oregon schools who were still sore about what Kelly did to the rest of the conference while in Eugene got a lot of time to laugh it up as Kelly and the Bruins were embarrassed and winless early in the season. However, Kelly took the talent Jim Mora had left there and turned the Bruins into a solid team by the end of the season.
It was slightly reminiscent of what Chris Petersen did when he took over Washington and could have won a few more games with Steve Sarkisian’s veteran’s in his first season had he just kept things rolling, but instead pushed hard on his own culture, and it paid off in the long run.
Chase Hansen & Ben Burr-Kirven - I gave Hansen Defensive Player of the Year, but he could have easily shared that honor with BBK. These two linebackers played the position as well as any Pac-12 player has is recent history and were lights out all season, leading their teams to division titles.
Cal’s rise - They made me doubt it early in Pac-12 play, but Cal rose up the way I thought they would this season, making it to seven wins and a bowl game with an upset win over Pac-12 champion Washington. The Bears are a wild card championship contender to watch in 2019 with the talent they have coming back and Justin Wilcox one to watch to start being considered for tops jobs around the nation when they open up.
Conference perception - It was another season of the Pac-12 being regarded as one of the worst, if not the worst power five conference, and it’s hard to argue against. The conference failed to impress out of conference and failed to produce a team that was even in the argument for the CFP this weekend.
Non-conference play - Washington lost their opener to an Auburn team that went 7-5 and it all went downhill from there. Stanford and USC failed against Notre Dame. USC was throttled by Texas and the best non-conference wins ended up being Arizona State over a 7-5 Michigan State team, wins over at 6-6 BYU team (though Arizona lost to them) and Stanford over a 7-5 San Diego State team who beat Arizona State. Ugly.
USC - The Trojans were as bad as they have been in my lifetime. No excuses, especially considering the amount of experience they had this year. I thought the Trojans would be an 8-9-win team, at worst, they barely won five games while avoiding Oregon and Washington.
Preseason stars - Bryce Love was legitimately nearly unstoppable in 2017 and he could only be better with a more veteran offensive line in 2018. Justin Herbert was going to win the Heisman and be the top overall draft pick in 2019. Jake Browning would step up as a senior who won Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2016. In reality, Love didn’t even get close to 1,000 yards and averaged just 4.5 yards per-carry. Herbert flashed at times, but was mostly just kind of good and led Oregon to just eight wins and Browning was Browning all season.
Pac-12 Conference Championship Game - The game was a bore between two teams with nothing but the Rose Bowl at stake and a stadium that was very empty. It’s time to make this game a home game for someone or get it to Vegas asap.
Bowl season? The Pac-12 has a chance to make a minor statement in bowl season with Washington taking on a highly-ranked Ohio State team in the Rose Bowl and the rest of the conference getting very-winnable games in their bowls. Can the Pac-12 rally and take back national respect with a respectable bowl showing?
Respect? The conference just keeps drifting off into a sea of disrespect from the rest of the country. Is there anything the Pac-12 can do in the next year to repair the damage done to its reputation?
Justin Herbert & the NFL - There are a lot of underclassmen whose decision whether or not to leave early for the NFL will be very important for next season and difficult, but none more than Herbert. Coming back for his senior year could push the Ducks to the top of conference preseason predictions and give him another year to grow, but the Ducks could fall as low as fifth in the North if he declares. A lot is riding on whether or not the young man is in Eugene next Fall.