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Pac-12 Autopsy Report

A look back at each team in the Conference of Champions

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Southern California vs Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats

Arizona’s 2017 was defined by one player - Khalil Tate. No other player in the conference defined their team more than Tate. For a magical October, the Wildcats were Tate and the no-names. He would run around everybody and throw when he wasn’t doing that. But, the magic eventually ran out for Tate and the Wildcats. After threatening for the division lead and another magical season under Rich Rodriguez, a loss to USC pivoted the season to a somewhat disappointing 7-5 finish. Just good enough for Rich Rod to keep his job for the foreseeable future. That’s the “bad” news for Zona fans. The good news is that they have a bunch of talent waiting in the wings. This season was a retooling of the team. Now, after they win their bowl game, they’ll have momentum, Khalil Tate, and a bunch of studs on defense. All in all, not a bad 2017 for Arizona.

Arizona State Sun Devils

It seems like my diagnosis of the 2017 Arizona State Sun Devils is different from their own, as they just fired Todd Graham after his best effort since 2014. 6-3 in conference, 7-5 overall, a win over Arizona in the Territorial Cup, and a lot of potential coming back. But I guess they didn’t like his boy band mic? The blitzes he ran in the office? Who knows? Now they have Herm Edwards. But this is about last year. ASU tailspun early in the year, losing to Texas Tech and SDSU in convincing fashion, before pulling it together, surprisingly on defense. Arizona State was dynamite on D for about 80 minutes, which was good enough for a win over Washington. Eno Benjamin is a great young running back and N’keal Harry is a freak on the outside. They did just enough on offense to escape most games. Their D had players, like D.J. Calhoun at MLB, but it mostly relied on group tackling and communication. ASU is a solid middle-of-the-road conference team.

California Golden Bears

Cal is who we thought they were (this is a cruel joke as Dennis Green coached at Stanford). Justin Wilcox, in his first year, had an up-and-down season. It started off hot with over P5 schools like UNC and Ole Miss, but then it turned out that UNC is bad and Ole Miss isn’t great. The real story with the 2017 Golden Bears is how well put together the staff is. Justin Wilcox hired two CEO’s at OC and DC with Beau Baldwin and Tim DeRuyter. They both know exactly what they’re doing and Wilcox knows how to work the staff. Ross Bowers at QB has promise, Patrick Laird is one of my favorite players in the conference, and the defense has some pieces. Cal missed a bowl this year, but they have a decent ceiling in the future. For now, just too many moments of stagnant offense and silly mistakes (Oregon game).

Oregon Ducks

Tugboat Willie Taggart had a great first year, all things considered. He lost a starting QB, at a time when there were two other QB’s on the roster, he had a defense that was a wet paper towel last year, and the depth was close to non-existent. Justin Herbert was so important to this team, and when he went down, the offense went down. Jim Leavitt had the defense working together and playing hard, as he is wont to do. Taggart is recruiting his tail off, and if he stays in Eugene, they’ll be just fine. But 2017 was a year marked by a sigh of relief. It was an effort to get to 6-6 given all the adversity.

Oregon State Beavers

I really don’t wanna dwell on this one. OSU was bad in 2017. Reboot with Jonathan Smith and start over.

Stanford Cardinal

Another ho-hum division-winning season for David Shaw and Stanford. Does anyone have a more boring way to win 10 games and the Pac-12 North. It almost seems like a burden to them. This team was dragged through the schedule by Bryce Love. The defense grew into itself at the end, but Love really took the lion’s share of duty. He is/was truly special, and it’s weird to say that directly after Christian McCaffrey. The Stanford of 2017 is the same as the Stanford of 2016, and 2015 before that. They’re big, they’re tough, and they’re one-dimensional by choice. Another 10 win season just like that.

UCLA Bruins

The last year of the Jim Mora and Josh Rosen era was average, at best. This is the wildest 6-6 you’ll see. After the thriller against Texas A&M, UCLA played up and down the rest of the way. They lost to the teams they were supposed to, in unusual ways, and beat the teams they should’ve, in usual ways. With a defense as soft as butter, Mora rode Rosen’s arm as much as possible. This obviously resulted in erratic play. There is still somehow no run game in Westwood, but that didn’t stop Rosen. He was electric all year, and he should get a high draft pick that he deserves. It’s too bad he spent three years in OC wasteland, only to leave right when Chip Kelly gets there.

USC Trojans

The class of the Pac-12 takes their rightful place. Clay Helton has done a fantastic job as HC, but I can’t help but feel that he rode his talent to get there. Which I guess is exactly what a USC coach should do. Sam Darnold did not live up to his hype as Hercules, but he was still one of the best in the country. He makes plays that no other QB can make, and when he’s not fumbling, he leads a pretty good offense. To me, that’s not the story of the team. About halfway through the year, it seemed as if the Trojans found a mean streak they needed. They got tougher on the lines, rode a great RB in Ronald Jones, and relied on their front 7 on defense. Uchenna Nwosu is a stud at LB and they are filled to the brim with other big time talent up there. in 2017, they won when they had to and lose one very unfortunate game to a good WSU. If they held it together for one more game, they’re likely in the Playoff.

Washington Huskies

I don’t know what to say about this team that provides any sort of value. I mean, they are exactly what they look like. A well-coached, balanced team that fell just short of elite. You have a good QB Jake Browning, a great RB in Myles Gaskin, a great WR in Dante Pettis, a great DL in Vita Vea, a good LB corps, and a stud in the secondary in Myles Bryant. If you picked the All-Around team in NCAA 14 (always pick Smashmouth), then you picked Washington. They have no glaring weaknesses, but they fell apart one too many times. Their 2017 was a forgettable 10-11 win season. Chris Petersen is a wizard.

Washington State Cougars

The Mad Pirate had his best team ever, and was one win away from a potential conference championship. That hasn’t happened for Mike Leach in a long time. This is not your slightly older brother’s Washington State Cougars. They had BALANCE. Real, live balance. Luke Falk was solid, if unspectacular, at QB, and their passing numbers were still a big inflated. But they also had three good RBs, led by Jamal Morrow, and their stable of receivers wasn’t as deep as usual. The story here is the defense. It actually existed! And more than that, it imposed its will on others. Alex Grinch has completely turned the unit around. They force turnovers fairly often, and they recruited some great players. Hercules Mata’afa gets talked about regularly, for good reason, on DL, but Jalen Thompson at safety is really good, too. The Cougars were just a good team in 2017, no gimmicks neccessary.

Utah Utes

It was a disappointing year for the Utes, still the only team who hasn’t won the Pac-12 South. It started with so much promise after Tyler Huntley lit up the non-conference opponents and the defense looked as fierce as usual. Then, the ruse wore off. Huntley alternated between injured and inconsistent, both the OL and DL were beneath Utah standards, and the defense gave up way more points than normal. When the offense stalls sometimes and the defense can’t stop the other team, it’s a bad combo. Kyle Whittingham ends the year sneaking into the bowl. He has Zack Moss to thank for that. His hard running and time chewing saved the team a few times. The 6-6 record belies how competitive Utah was against some good teams this year, but they also lost some head-scratchers. They head into 2018 with many of the same questions as they have now, but they have a leg up, if only because they didn’t fire their coach this year like many other Pac-12 programs.