There were a lot of praise-worthy moments during the 2016 Pac 12 campaign. And in the same breath, I can say with 100% certainty, there were equally plenty of cringe-worthy moments as well. In my opinion, I would say that the Pac 12 took a step back this year. There were some teams that performed extremely well (Pac 12 Champion Washington Huskies) and some teams that stumbled out of the gate, fell, face-planted, and remained on the ground for 12 weeks or so (Arizona, Oregon, Cal, take your pick).
Amongst the peaks and valleys this past season, there were some teams that represented the very best of the Pac 12 and what this conference has to offer to college football. Conversely, there are some teams that flat out stunk and left an ‘un-Febreze-able’ odor, stinging the nostrils of hapless fans up and down the Pacific coast. Depending on your perspective, some of these teams are interchangeable. In the end, we know good football when we see it, straight up. No exceptions. Looking back on this past season, here are my takes on the best and worst of the Pac 12.
Washington made good on their preseason picks to represent the Pac 12 and possibly crack the top four in the College Football Playoff. With an impressive 12-2 (8-1) record, the Huskies punished would-be opponents en route to the Pac 12 championship. It was their first since 2000. Led by sophomore quarterback Jake Browning, The Huskies jumped out of the gate winning their first nine games before falling to eventual Rose Bowl Champion, USC. However, despite the loss, U Dub was able to regroup after the loss, win the Pac 12 Championship and face Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Though the Huskies were put down 24-7, they showed no quit and scrapped it out until the very end.
The Trojans stumbled out of the gate, losing three of their first four games. They were beyond cross road status. They were picking out a plot and resting in shame for the rest of the season. But, somehow, some way, they picked themselves up by their bootstraps and forged ahead to what was a turnaround of all turnarounds. After a 31-27 defeat to the Utes (Utah), USC went on a torrid win streak (eight straight) and displayed why they are perennial favorites to compete and win the Pac 12 year in and year out. And the ultimate cherry on top, you ask? It was an ‘instant classic’ of a game as you can imagine with an improbable come-from-behind Rose Bowl victory over Big Ten Champ, Penn State 52-49.
No, this isn’t a typo. I meant it. Yes, I certainly wasn’t a believer for this pick, but I had to really sit down and catch a few games. And to my surprise, the Buffs were quite good this season. They finished 10-4 (8-1). I think Colorado would have given eventual champion Washington a bit more competition in the conference championship had Sefo Liufao not injured his ankle early in the game. That’s my opinion. But we’ll never know. It’s remarkable what Colorado could do in a course of two seasons. Talk about a serious 180 degree turn around from last season where they went 4-9 (1-8). It’s incredible, especially since it’s with the same group of players. Just goes to show you what continuity can do for a team. Unfortunately, the Buffs had to come crashing back to Earth from a 38-8 smack down at the hands of Oklahoma State in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Despite the loss, this was an impressive campaign and their heads should be held high.
A very popular acronym comes to mind when I think of the Ducks: W.T.F? To those not up on current social terminology, let’s just say that it’s a serious inquisition into understanding the unlikeliest of outcomes. Going into the season, there were some question marks regarding the quarterback situation. Graduate transfer Dakota Prukop didn’t quite live up to the hype and his position was given to true freshman, Justin Herbert midway through the season. The issues didn’t just end there. Their porous defense was atrocious. During the October 8th game against Washington, the Ducks surrendered 70, that’s right 70 points and a whopping 682 yards of total offense! To complement a passive defense, All Pac 12 running back, Royce Freeman battled injuries throughout the season and wasn’t even close to being a factor. All totaled, the Ducks finished 4-8 (2-7). Subsequently, Mark Helfrich was relieved of his duties at season’s end. His replacement, former University of South Florida head coach Willie Taggart assumed the position and is looking to retool a once proud and dominant program. One notable bright spot is that running back Royce Freeman will return for his senior season.
Injuries to quarterback Josh Rosen quickly derailed what would be been a championship campaign for the Bruins. Without the sophomore quarterback, UCLA stumbled and bumbled to a 4-8 (2-7) record. Despite the record, the Bruins’ defense kept them in most of their games. Unfortunately, the offense could not drum up enough of a rhythm to keep the defense off the field for extended periods of time. The Bruins look to have Josh Rosen back for his junior season. Hopefully, he will be healthy and the defense, though losing some key playmakers, can resume consistent, strong play.
Cal Golden Bears
Oh, this pains me so! There is no way I can’t say that this season was an absolute disappointment. Early predictions had Cal contending for the Pac 12 North division title – key word, early predictions. When news that Cal had landed graduate transfer Davis Webb from Texas Tech, it seemed that the Golden Bears’ prayers had been answered as far as a replacement for former signal caller, Jared Goff. Statistically, Webb performed well above expectations- throwing for 4,295 yards with 37 TD’s versus 12 picks. Of course the other side of the coin reveals a much darker, bleaker situation. Cal’s defense, which showed some improvement last season, seemed to have left that improvement somewhere in 2015. Cal’s defense ranked at or near the bottom in several defensive statistical categories. It was a hot mess of a dumpster fire. However, the defensive highlight of the season and a moment which I figured would turn Cal’s season around was the epic goal line stand against then #4 Utah. It was the type of stand that sets the tone for the rest of the season. Alas, it was only good enough to get the win and nothing more. Sadly, it would be only one of two wins to come in the final seven games of the season. The blaze that was the 2016 season saw coaching casualties in Defensive Coordinator Art Kaufman and Head Coach Sonny Dykes. With a new regime taking place in Strawberry Canyon, first-time head coach Justin Wilcox is poised to right a ship that has been astray for some time.
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