Pac-12 wrap: New look, same stories

The first year of the Pac-12 was remarkably similar to the last years of the Pac-10. A few teams enjoyed exciting seasons, but most were disappointed.

Oregon won the conference championship again. Stanford again lost just once and was the conference’s next highest-ranked team. USC reasserted itself as a major threat. And UCLA, Arizona State and most of the other teams were disappointing.

As expected, the Oregon-Stanford clash in Palo Alto determined the winner of the North Division and ultimately the conference title. The Ducks had prevailed 52-31 last season, and this season, they won 53-30.

Coach of the year:
USC’s Lane Kiffin
Player of the year:
Stanford QB Andrew Luck
Freshman of the year:
Oregon WR De’Anthony Thomas
Coordinator of the year:
Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason
Defensive player of the year:
Cal LB Mychal Kendricks
Defensive freshman of the year:
USC LB Dion Bailey
Offensive coordinator of the year:
Arizona State’s Noel Mazzone

League newcomers Utah and Colorado actually were key figures in determining the South Division representative in the championship game, but not in the way they would have preferred. With USC ineligible for the championship because of NCAA sanctions, Utah needed a victory over two-win Colorado to advance to the conference title game. The Utes were left disappointed with a 17-14 loss that allowed UCLA to back in instead.

Disappointment was commonplace in the Pac-12.

Washington State was hoping to make its first bowl appearance in eight years. But after a 3-1 start, the Cougars lost seven of eight and coach Paul Wulff was fired.

Arizona lost five in a row early in the season. Coach Mike Stoops was fired.

UCLA was beaten 50-0 by USC and finished the regular season 6-6. Coach Rick Neuheisel was fired.

Arizona State, which once seemed in control of the South race, lost five of its last six. Coach Dennis Erickson was fired.

Arizona has created excitement with the hiring of former West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Washington State then followed by hiring former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach.

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Conference superlatives

Player of the year: Stanford QB Andrew Luck. In a conference rife with offensive stars, Luck was a model of efficiency and consistency. Despite the absence of an elite wide receiver, Luck passed for 3,170 yards and 35 touchdowns while completing 70 percent of his attempts. He threw nine interceptions, but usually responded by leading the Cardinal to a touchdown on the ensuing series. He led Stanford to an 11-1 finish.

Freshman of the year: Oregon WR De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas, nicknamed “The Black Mamba,” has fit right in with Oregon’s quick-strike offense. Thomas showed almost immediately that he would be major factor in the Ducks’ drive for a third consecutive conference championship. He rushed for a touchdown in his first game and followed with two touchdown catches in his second game. By the end of the regular season, Thomas had rushed for 440 yards and five touchdowns and caught 42 passes for 571 yards and nine more touchdowns. He also scored two touchdowns on kickoff returns.

Coach of the year: USC’s Lane Kiffin. Kiffin is a lightning rod for critics, but even his harshest detractors must acknowledge that he’s done a remarkable job with the Trojans. Although NCAA sanctions resulted in several players transferring or leaving early for the NFL and rendered the Trojans ineligible for the Pac-12 championship, Kiffin kept his team focused. USC improved as the season progressed and finished 10-2. In fact, the Trojans arguably were the best team in the conference at the end of the season. They won seven of their last eight games, with the only setback a controversial three-overtime loss to Stanford.

Coordinator of the year: Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason. Sure, the Cardinal defense figured to be good, but Mason was in a tough spot. He was replacing Vic Fangio, who left for the San Francisco 49ers after building a defense that ranked 21st in the nation last season. Mason also took over a unit replacing five starters. Then, LB Shayne Skov, the team’s best defensive player, suffered a season-ending knee injury in September. Later, star SS Delano Howell missed several games with injury. Yet the defense continued to play well and finished the regular season ranked 25th overall in the country.

Biggest surprise, team: USC. OK, it’s never that surprising when USC is successful, but the Trojans still exceeded expectations. Ineligible for the coaches’ poll and the BCS standings, USC was ranked 25th in the preseason AP poll. But after posting 10 wins, including a 38-35 victory over Oregon, the Trojans climbed to No. 5. Had they been eligible, the Trojans easily would have won the South Division.

Dennis Erickson ended his Arizona State tenure with another lackluster season.
(Getty Images)

Biggest disappointment, team: Arizona State. The Sun Devils were the popular pick to win the South Division. That appeared to be a sound choice after they started 5-1 and climbed to No. 18 in the national polls. But injuries began taking a toll on a defense that was exploited on a weekly basis in the second half of the season. The Sun Devils lost five of their last six to finish 6-6 and behind UCLA in the South Division race. The downward spiral led to the firing of coach Dennis Erickson.

Biggest surprise, player: USC RB Curtis McNeal. The diminutive junior didn’t play last season, had 33 career rushing yards entering the season and was third on the Trojans’ depth chart. He didn’t get more than seven carries in any of the first five games, but rushed for 118 in a victory over Notre Dame, then had 145 yards and two touchdowns vs. Stanford. He took over the starting role and rushed for at least 87 yards in every game in the second half of the season and finished with 1,005 rushing yards.

Biggest disappointment, player: Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict. Last season he had earned all-conference recognition and even made some All-America teams after posting 90 tackles. He was considered perhaps the most intimidating player in college football. His only drawback seemed a tendency to pick up penalties, an issue he vowed to end. This season, though, Burfict played like a shadow of his former self. His tackle totals dropped from 90 to 68, he didn’t play as aggressively and he was virtually a non-factor in many games as the Sun Devils’ defense became a major problem area. Burfict was not among the six linebackers who were named to the all-conference team. In fact, he didn’t even receive honorable mention.

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Best game: Oct. 29, Stanford 56, USC 48 (3 OT). The Cardinal was undefeated and ranked sixth, but USC was much stronger than any of Stanford’s previous opponents. USC broke a 27-27 tie when CB Nickell Robey returned an interception for a touchdown with just over three minutes remaining in regulation. But that left more than enough time for QB Andrew Luck to lead the Cardinal for a game-tying touchdown. USC answered by moving into field goal range, but after a short pass, time expired before USC WR Robert Woods could get out of bounds. Stepfan Taylor’s touchdown run and a two-point conversion gave Stanford a 56-48 lead in the third overtime, and the game ended when USC’s McNeal, who had scored two long touchdowns, lost a fumble into the end zone.

Biggest upset: Oct. 20, Arizona 48, UCLA 12. Arizona had lost five in a row and coach Mike Stoops had been fired. Meanwhile, UCLA had won two of its past three and had moved into contention in the Pac-12 South. Neither team could have anticipated what would occur on a Thursday night in Tucson in a game marred by a streaker and an on-field brawl that resulted in the suspension of several players. Arizona QB Nick Foles passed for 291 yards and threw three touchdown passes to Juron Criner, and the Wildcats’ mundane running game exploded for 254 yards. The Wildcats scored 28 points in the second quarter and led by as much as 48-7 in the fourth.

Bowl outlook: The Pac-12 certainly has its work cut out in the bowl season. Three Pac-12 teams are facing top-10 opponents and four are facing opponents with better records. No. 5 Oregon (11-2), which faces No. 8 Wisconsin (11-2) in the Rose Bowl, is the only Pac-12 team ranked higher than the team it faces. No. 4 Stanford plays No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl and unranked Arizona State plays No. 6 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl. That appears the biggest mismatch in the bowl lineup. Also, unranked Washington faces No. 16 Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, while 7-5 Utah takes on 8-4 Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. The matchups of 7-5 Cal vs. 7- 5 Texas in the Holiday Bowl and 6-6 Illinois vs. 6-7 UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl appear to be even.

Underclassmen liable to turn pro: USC QB Matt Barkley, Arizona State LB Vontaze Burfict, Stanford G David DeCastro, USC T Matt Kalil, Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Stanford OT Jonathan Martin, USC FS T.J. McDonald, USC DE Nick Perry, Washington RB Chris Polk, Stanford LB LB Chase Thomas

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QBAndrew Luck, Stanford; 6-4/235, Jr.; Houston Stratford
RBLaMichael James, Oregon; 5-9/195, Jr.; Texarkana (Texas) Liberty-Eylau
RBChris Polk, Washington; 5-11/222, Jr.; Redlands (Calif.) East Valley
WRKeenan Allen, California; 6-3/205, Soph.; Greensboro (NC) Northern Guilford
WRMarquess Wilson, Washington State; 6-3/181, Soph.; Tulare (Calif.) Union
WRRobert Woods, USC; 6-1/180, Soph.; Gardena (Calif.) Serra
TMatt Kalil, USC; 6-7/295, Jr.; Anaheim (Calif.) Servite
TJonathan Martin, Stanford; 6-6/297, Jr.; North Hollywood (Calif.) Harvard-Westlake
GDavid DeCastro, Stanford; 6-5/307, Jr.; Bellevue (Wash.) High
GRyan Miller, Colorado; 6-8/295, Sr.; Littleton (Colo.) Columbine
CGarth Gerhart, Arizona State; 6-2/302, Sr.; Norco (Calif.) High
EDion Jordan, Oregon; 6-7/240, Jr.; Chandler (Ariz.) High
TStar Lotulelei, Utah; 6-3/335, Jr.; Snow College (Utah), preceded by Bingham (Utah) High
TAlameda Ta'amu, Washington; 6-3/337, Sr.; Kent (Wash.) Rainier Beach
ENick Perry, USC; 6-3/250, Jr.; Detroit King
LBJosh Kaddu, Oregon; 6-3/235, Sr.; Vacaville (Calif.) High
LBMychal Kendricks, California; 6-0/240, Sr.; Fresno (Calif.) Hoover
LBChase Thomas, Stanford; 6-4/240, Jr.; Marietta (Ga.) Walton
CBJordan Poyer, Oregon State; 6-0/190, Jr.; Astoria (Ore.) High
CBNickell Robey, USC; 5-8/165, Soph.; Frostproof (Fla.) High
FST.J. McDonald, USC; 6-3/205, Jr.; Fresno (Calif.) Edison
SSEddie Pleasant, Oregon; 5-11/210, Sr.; La Palma (Calif.) Kennedy
KGiorgio Tavecchio, California; 5-10/178, Sr.; Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo
PJackson Rice, Oregon; 6-3/225, Jr.; Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo
KRDe'Anthony Thomas, Oregon; 5-9/173, Fr.; Los Angeles Crenshaw
PRLaMichael James, Oregon; 5-9/195, Jr.; Texarkana (Texas) Liberty-Eylau
QBMatt Barkley, USC; 6-2/220, Jr.; Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei
RBIsi Sofele, California; 5-8/190, Jr.; Salt Lake City Cottonwood
RBJohn White IV, Utah; 5-8/186, Jr.; LA Harbor College, preceded by Torrance (Calif.) South Torrance
WRMarqise Lee, USC; 6-0/190, Fr.; Gardena (Cal.) Serra
WRNelson Rosario, UCLA; 6-5/219, Sr.; Oceanside (Calif.) El Camino
TECoby Fleener, Stanford; 6-6/244, Sr.; Joliet (Ill.) Joliet Catholic
TTony Bergstrom, Utah; 6-6/315, Sr.; Salt Lake City Skyline
TMitchell Schwartz, California; 6-6/318, Sr.; Pacific Palisades (Cal.) Charter
GMark Asper, Oregon; 6-7/325, Sr.; Idaho Falls (Idaho.) Bonneville
GJustin Cheadle, California; 6-3/295, Sr.; Bakersfield (Calif.) High
CKhaled Holmes, USC; 6-4/310, Jr.; Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei
ETrevor Guyton, California; 6-3/280, Sr. Woodinville (Wash.) Redmond
TBo Moos, Arizona State; 6-0/279, Sr.; Eugene (Ore.) Sheldon
TBrandon Rankin, Washington State; 6-5/286, Sr.; Butte College (Calif.), preceded by Shallotte (N.C.) West Brunswick
EDerrick Shelby, Utah; 6-3/271, Sr.; Houston Hightower
LBDion Bailey, USC; 6-0/200, R-Fr.; Lakewood (Calif.) High
LBCort Dennison, Washington; 6-1/234, Sr.; Salt Lake City Judge Memorial
LBChaz Walker, Utah; 6-0/223, Sr.; Farmington (Utah) Davis
CBDesmond Trufant, Washington; 6-0/184, Jr.; Tacoma (Wash.) Wilson
CBTrevin Wade, Arizona; 5-11/192, Sr.; Round Rock (Texas) Stony Point
FSJohn Boyett, Oregon; 5-10/202, Jr.; Napa (Calif.) High
SSDelano Howell, Stanford; 5-11/189, Sr.; Newhall (Calif.) Hart
KAndre Heidari, USC; 5-10/210, Fr.; Bakersfield (Calif.) Stockdale
PBryan Anger, California; 6-4/208, Sr.; Camarillo (Calif.) High
KRJamal Miles, Arizona State; 5-10/180, Jr.; Peoria (Ariz.) High
PRDrew Terrell, Stanford; 5-11/179, Jr.; Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton
QBSean Mannion, Oregon State; 6-5/218, redshirt freshman; Pleasanton (Calif.) Foothill
RBKa'Deem Carey, Arizona; 5-10/190, true freshman; Tucson (Ariz.) Canyon Del Oro
RBRickey Galvin, Washington State; 5-8/172, redshirt freshman; Berkeley (Calif.) High
WRMarqise Lee, USC; 6-0/190, true freshman; Gardena (Calif.) Serra
WRDe'Anthony Thomas, Oregon; 5-9/173, true freshman; Los Angeles Crenshaw
WRKasen Williams, Washington; 6-2/212, true freshman; Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline
OLMickey Baucus, Arizona; 6-6/280, redshirt freshman; Mundelein (Ill.) Carmel Catholic
OLFabbians Ebbelle, Arizona; 6-8/305, redshirt freshman; Chicago Simeon
OLCameron Fleming, Stanford; 6-6/307, redshirt freshman; Houston Cypress Creek
OLMarcus Martin, USC; 6-3/340; Los Angeles Crenshaw
OLDavid Yankey, Stanford; 6-5/300, redshirt freshman; Roswell (Ga.) Centennial
ECarl Bradford, Arizona State; 6-0/247, redshirt freshman; Norco (Calif.) High
TGeorge Uko, USC; 6-3/295, redshirt freshman; Chino (Calif.) Don Lugo
EScott Crichton, Oregon State; 6-3/258, redshirt freshman; Tacoma Henry Foss
LBDion Bailey, USC; 6-0/200, redshirt freshman; Lakewood (Calif.) High
LBEric Kendricks, UCLA; 6-1/228, redshirt freshman; Fresno (Calif.) Hoover
LBHayes Pullard, USC; 6-0/225, redshirt freshman; Los Angeles Crenshaw
DBTra'Mayne Bondurant, Arizona; 5-10/185; Fairfield (Cal.)
DBGreg Henderson, Colorado; 5-11/185, true freshman; Norco (Calif.) High
DBTevin McDonald, UCLA; 6-0/195, redshirt freshman; Fresno (Calif.) Edison
DBJordan Richards, Stanford; 5-11/199, true freshman; Folsom (Calif.) High
DBEric Rowe, Utah; 6-1/185, true freshman; Spring (Texas) Klein
KAndre Heidari, USC; 5-10/210, true freshman; Bakersfield (Calif.) Stockdale
PDarragh O'Neill, Colorado; 6-2/180, true freshman; Boulder (Colo.) Fairview
KRDe'Anthony Thomas, Oregon; 5-9/173, true freshman; Los Angeles Crenshaw
PRDe'Anthony Thomas, Oregon; 5-9/173, true freshman; Los Angeles Crenshaw

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Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He can be reached at
Updated Wednesday, Dec 7, 2011