The Pac-12 is a jumble at the halfway point after some surprising early season results but some themes have emerged.
First, Oregon has rebounded after the loss to Auburn in the opener and is in control in the North Division with a five-game winning streak. In the South, it’s still anyone’s race to win.
A couple of key games this weekend could make the picture clearer. The No. 12 Ducks (5-1, 3-0) visit No. 25 Washington (5-2, 2-2), while No. 17 Arizona State (5-1, 2-1) visits No. 13 Utah (5-1, 2-1).
If the Ducks win the rest of the way and claim the Pac-12 title, they might have a sliver of a chance to make the College Football Playoff. But it’s a longshot.
The Utes, favored in the preseason to win the South, dropped a game to USC and now must find a way to separate themselves from a pack of teams that have two wins, including the Sun Devils, the Trojans and Arizona.
The Associated Press writers covering the Pac-12 voted on the best – and worst – of the league so far. Here are some of the standout teams and players with the second half of the season looming:
COACH OF THE MIDSEASON: It was unanimous, with Arizona State’s Herm Edwards getting the nod. Edwards surprised many when he led the Sun Devils to a winning record and a bowl game in his first season. This year, he’s showing it might not be a fluke. The Sun Devils are a win away from bowl eligibility again and are right in the thick of the South standings, despite starting a freshman quarterback. Having Eno Benjamin helps, too.
”We have a lot of work to do still. We’re laying bricks, trying to stack them. We have to just keep playing (the freshman) and that’s what we’re trying to do. Are we there yet? No. It’s a journey. We’re going to a destination and we haven’t arrived yet but we keep working as hard as we can to get there,” Edwards said this week.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE MIDSEASON: The votes were across the spectrum, with Oregon State’s Isaiah Hodgins standing out despite playing on a team with just two wins overall this season. Washington State’s Anthony Gordon got mentions, too, but more on him later.
Hodgins, a junior, ranks fourth nationally with an average of 118.2 receiving yards a game. Oregon State was shut down by Utah’s stout defense in a 52-7 loss last weekend, but Hodgins still managed eight catches for 77 yards. He’s become one of the Beavers’ best offensive weapons, especially with running back Jermar Jefferson hampered by injury.
The Beavers (2-4, 1-2) visit California (4-2, 1-2) on Saturday.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE MIDSEASON: Speaking of Cal, linebacker Evan Weaver swept the category. The senior inside linebacker has 84 tackles to lead the nation, and he’s been in double digits for five of the last six games. His career-high 22 tackles at Mississippi earlier this season tied the Golden Bears’ record.
FRESHMAN OF THE MIDSEASON: This one was unanimous, too. Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels has surpassed expectations. He’s averaging 301.3 yards of total offense per game, ranking first among freshmen nationally. He’s also averaging 268.3 yards passing to rank among the top 20 quarterbacks overall nationwide. He’s thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception.
”We recruited him really hard out of high school,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ”He’s a talented kid. He’s not the biggest guy, only about 180 pounds, so he hasn’t filled out yet, but he’s doing a really nice job running the offense.”
SURPRISING PLAYER AT MIDSEASON: It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise considering Mike Leach’s reputation for producing prolific quarterbacks in his system, but Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon is leading the league – and the nation – in many statistical categories. He ranks first nationally in passing yards (2,612) and average yards per game (435.3), and he ranks second in the country with 25 touchdowns. He’s thrown for 400 or more yards five times this season.
Gordon has picked up pretty much where Gardner Minshew left off, except the Cougs aren’t putting up wins.
”It’s not like a version of the Air Raid, it’s just a real Air Raid. They really have it down to a science and they have a quarterback that can run it. He can run the offense, he knows how it works and he can put a lot of pressure on your defense,” Colorado coach Mel Tucker said.
The Cougars (3-3, 0-3) host the Buffaloes (3-3, 1-2) on Saturday.
SURPRISING TEAM AT MIDSEASON: Arizona State is better than most thought, while Washington State has been a disappointment. The Sun Devils were picked to finish third, but if they can stay on track – starting with the Utes this weekend – they might claim the South.
The Cougars have lost three straight after opening the season 3-0. The slide started with the disastrous 67-63 loss at home to UCLA, during which the Bruins rallied from a 32-point deficit.
DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: More was expected from Dorian Thompson-Robinson in his sophomore season, but a leg injury and a struggling supporting cast have kept UCLA’s quarterback from making more progress. He’s got 11 touchdowns with six interceptions and ranks at the bottom of the league in pass efficiency (137.8). But he had a good outing against the Cougars, throwing for 507 yards and five touchdowns.
UCLA (1-5, 1-2) visits Stanford (3-3, 2-2) on Thursday night.
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