Power in North, chaos in South as Pac-12 reaches midseason
At the midway point of the college football season, the Pac-12 has already been eliminated from the College Football Playoff debate.
Washington has two losses. So does Stanford. Oregon is the highest-ranked team at No. 12 in the AP Top 25, but has a terrible resume for playoff consideration. And the South is absent from the rankings.
The North is where the power lies, with four teams — Oregon, Stanford, Washington State, Washington — all having a manageable path to winning the division title and a spot in the conference championship game.
The South is ... well, the South.
Here’s a look at how Associated Press writers covering the Pac-12 view the best of the conference at the midpoint of the season:
Coach of the Year: Oregon’s Mario Cristobal.
Oregon was picked to finish third in the North in the preseason media poll. Cristobal has changed the attitude and approach with the Ducks and Oregon would be unbeaten if not for its late collapse at home against Stanford. The Ducks also appear to have the easiest path to a North Division title and a spot in the conference title game with matchups against Washington State and Utah appearing to be the only major challenges remaining. But both of those will be on the road.
Honorable mention: Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre.
Offensive Player of the Year: Colorado WR Laviska Shenault Jr. The sophomore was a relative unknown before the season started. He had seven catches and no touchdowns during his very limited action in his freshman season. It took less than one game for Shenault to surpass that reception total this season and no one has stopped him yet. Shenault has 60 receptions for 780 yards and six touchdowns through six games, although he was slowed last week against Southern California by a toe injury.
Honorable mention: Oregon QB Justin Herbert.
Defensive Player of the Year: Washington LB Ben Burr-Kirven. Burr-Kirven is the Pac-12 leader in tackles and it’s not even close. Burr-Kirven has 20 more total tackles than any other player in the conference. He’s been the anchor of a Washington defense that’s had most of the praise directed toward its secondary. Burr-Kirven is averaging more than 13 tackles per game and had a game with 20 tackles against Arizona State.
Honorable mention: Utah LB Chase Hansen.
Freshman of the Year: Oregon State RB Jermar Jefferson. For a program in a full rebuild, Jefferson is a true star in Corvallis. Jefferson is leading the Pac-12 averaging 144 yards per game rushing and has 12 touchdowns. He’s rushed for at least 100 yards in four of the past five games, including 254 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to Arizona State. Jefferson has two games with four rushing TDs already in his freshman season.
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Honorable mention: USC QB J.T. Daniels.
Most Surprising Team: Washington State. The Cougars (5-1, 2-1) were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 North, yet are ranked No. 25 in the AP Top 25 entering this week’s showdown with Oregon and have control of the North Division race in their hands. The Cougars have benefited from a friendly schedule, but they beat Utah at home and are a blocked field goal against Southern California away from being undefeated.
Honorable mention: Oregon
Most Surprising Player: Washington State QB Gardner Minshew. No one was quite sure what to expect from the graduate transfer stepping into the uncomfortable situation of being the quarterback filling the spot that was supposed to be occupied by Tyler Hilinski before Hilinski’s suicide last January. Minshew is averaging 403.7 yards per game passing — best in the country by nearly 70 yards — and has thrown 19 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
Honorable mention: Shenault.
Most Disappointing Team: Arizona. There was buzz the Wildcats (3-4, 2-2) should be the favorites in the South before the season with all the excitement surrounding the arrival of Kevin Sumlin. Very little has gone right for the Wildcats, beginning with their season-opening loss to BYU. The Wildcats are eighth in scoring offense, 10th in scoring defense and 11th in total defense. It hasn’t been a good debut for Sumlin.
Honorable mention: Washington. That’s probably not fair to Washington (5-2, 3-1), but any hopes the conference had of making the CFP rested largely with the Huskies. With two losses, those playoff aspirations are dead.
Most Disappointing Player: Arizona QB Khalil Tate. Just like his Wildcats, there was a ton of hype around Tate, who entered the season as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. But the usually mobile dual-threat QB has been rather pedestrian. Most shocking has been the lack of a running game from Tate, who hasn’t topped 40 yards rushing in a game this season. Tate aggravated an ankle injury last week against Utah.
Honorable mention: Stanford RB Bryce Love. Injuries have derailed Love’s season and ended his preseason Heisman hopes.