We take a look at the highlights and low lights during the first half of the Pac-12 football season.

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At the halfway mark of the college football season and very little has played out as predicted in the Pac-12.

Defending champion Stanford and Oregon, who have combined to win every Pac-12 title since the conference expanded in 2011, are reeling. The Pac-12 South, which has had five different winners in as many years, looks as confusing as ever.

Washington, the only undefeated team in the conference, appears to be the Pac-12’s best hope of making the College Football Playoff. Washington State is rebounding from a slow start for the second straight year and the Cougars have seemingly found a running game to pair with their high-powered Air Raid attack.

The old Pac-12 story lines have proven true once again. The conference has a handful of tremendous quarterbacks, dynamic offenses and horrendous defenses.

Three Pac-12 quarterbacks (California’s Davis Webb, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Washington State’s Luke Falk) are among the nation’s top 10 in passing yards while Washington’s Jake Browning leads the country in passing efficiency.

Speaking of Browning, he’s quickly becoming the face of the Pac-12, while Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, last year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up, fades into periphery.

Meanwhile, half of the Pac-12 allows nearly 400 yards per game.

After sluggish starts, USC and Oregon made the switch at quarterback and turned to freshmen. Sam Darnold is 2-1 with the Trojans and looks like a budding star, while Justin Herbert struggled mightily last week in his debut.

Injuries also forced Colorado, Arizona State and Arizona to turn to freshman quarterbacks with mixed results. The Buffaloes and Sun Devils have managed to remain on top of the Pac-12 South with first-time signal callers while the Wildcats has used four quarterbacks at various times and have fallen to the bottom of the standings.

Looking at the big picture, the Pac-12 has a perception problem that could keep the conference out of the College Football Playoff for a second straight year.

Only two teams (No. 5 Washington and No. 21) are ranked among the top 25 and the Pac-12 failed to impress voters with a less than robust nonconference showing.

The Pac-12 is 17-9 against FBS nonconference foes, but it’s 5-5 against Power 5 teams outside the conference and 1-1 against ranked teams in nonleague competition.

The biggest blows came early when No. 1 Alabama throttled USC 52-6 and UCLA fell 31-24 to Texas A&M in Week 1. California has the Pac-12’s best nonconference win – a 50-43 victory over then-No. 11 Texas.

With half the season in the books, here’s a look at the Pac-12 highlights and low lights.

Biggest surprise of the half year: Colorado (by a nose).

California coach Sonny Dykes has done a masterful job keeping the Golden Bears afloat after losing 11 starters, including QB Jared Goff, the first pick in the 2016 NFL draft. But no one expected the Buffaloes to make a brief return to the top 25 rankings for the first time in 11 years. And few would have believed they would have success with a redshirt freshman  quarterback Steven Montez who is 2-1 as a replacement starter in place of injured Sefo Liafau (ankle).

Many believed Colorado would improve on last year’s 4-9 record (1-8 in Pac-12) because it returned 18 starters. But with six games left in the regular-season, the Buffs (4-2, 2-1) have matched last year’s win total and they’re in a three-way tie on top of the South division.

Biggest disappointment of the half year: Oregon (by a beak).

The Ducks barely edge Stanford as the most overrated team in the Pac-12. Oregon has started the season 2-4 with three consecutive Pac-12 losses, including last Saturday’s 70-21 loss to Northwest rival Washington – the second-worst margin of defeat in program history.

Injuries only tell half the story to Oregon’s demise. The Ducks are simply too young (four redshirt freshmen offensive line starters and a true freshman quarterback) to seriously contend this season.

Best performances of the half year: Tie Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage and Washington’s Jake Browning.

On Sept. 10, Ballage was responsible for eight of ASU’s nine touchdowns during a 68-55 win over Texas Tech. His eight touchdowns tied Howard Griffith (Illinois, 1990) for the NCAA single-game touchdown record. Ballage also broke the Pac-12 record for most touchdowns scored in a game. He finished with 137 rushing yards and 48 receiving yards.

Browning also accounted for eight TDs (six passing and two rushing) during a 70-21 win at Oregon. He set UW’s record for most passing touchdowns in a game.

Best play of the half year: Colorado receiver Bryce Bobo’s one-hand grab against Oregon.

Best defensive play of the half year: USC cornerback Adoree Jackson’s interception against Colorado.

Best defensive stand of the half year: Utah comes up short at California.

Down by five points, the Utes had first and goal at the Cal 2 with eight seconds left. Utah only gained a yard on three plays before time expired on its 28-23 defeat. On the final play, the Golden Bears, which rank last in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, stuffed Zack Moss at the line for no gain.

It’s the only loss of the season for Utah (5-1, 3-1).

Best game of the half year: Oregon State 47, California 44 (OT).

The Beavers had an 89-percent chance to win when they led 41-24 with 10:35 remaining. The Golden Bears closed out the fourth quarter with a 17-0 run, including a game-tying field goal with five seconds left to force overtime. Cal scored first in the extra period on a 39-yard FG and OSU’s chances to win dipped to 33 percent.

On the next drive, the Beavers needed three plays before quarterback Darrell Garretson broke free for a 16-yard game-winning run that snapped OSU’s 12-game Pac-12 losing streak. It was also the first conference win for second-year coahc Gary Andersen.

Best game left on the schedule: No. 5 Washington at No. 21 Utah, Oct. 29.

This could be a preview of the Pac-12 championship game. In their only visit to Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Huskies won 31-14 in 2011.

Here’s a look at some midseason awards.

Most Valuable Offensive Player: Washington’s Jake Browning
Most Valuable Defensive Player: Washington’s Sidney Jones
Freshman of the Midseason: USC’s Sam Darnold
Newcomer of the Midseason: California’s Davis Webb
Coach of the Midseason: Washington’s Chris Petersen

And here’s a look at our Midseason All-Pac-12 team.


QB: Washington Jake Browning
RB: Oregon’s Royce Freeman
RB: Washington’s Myles Gaskin
WR: California’s Chad Hansen
WR: Colorado’s Devin Ross
WR: Colorado’s Shay Fields
OL: USC’s Zach Banner
OL: USC’s Chad Wheeler
OL: UCLA’s Conor McDermott
OL: Utah’s Isaac Asiata
OL: Washington’s Trey Adams


DL: Washington State’s Herc Mata’afa
DL: Washington’s Greg Gaines
DL: Washington’s Elijah Qualls
DL: Stanford’s Solomon Thomas
LB: Washington’s Azeem Victor
LB: UCLA’s Jayon Brown
LB: USC’s Cameron Smith
CB: Washington’s Sydney Jones
CB: USC’s Adoree Jackson
S: Washington’s Budda Baker
S: Utah’s Marcus Williams


K: Arizona State’s Zane Gonzalez
P: Utah’s Mitch Wishnowsky
KOR: USC’s Adoree Jackson
PR: UCS’s Adoree Jackson
AP: Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey


— Arizona leads the nation for the most opponents’ penalties (59), which isn’t a fluke. Twice in the previous four seasons (2014 and ’12), the Wildcats’ opponents led the country in penalties.

— Stanford is the nation’s only team to play 11 Power 5 teams (and Notre Dame), six road games and no FCS opponents.

— Arizona senior receiver Nate Phillips has caught a pass in 39 straight games, which is fifth for longest active streak by a FBS player.

Huskies quarterback Jake Browning warms up before a game against Oregon in Eugene, Ore. , Oct. 8, 2016.  (Johnny Andrews / The Seattle Time


1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson: After a slow start in which he put up pedestrian numbers in the first three games, Watson has been on a tear in the past three weeks. He’s averaging 293 passing yards, 3.6 TDs while completing 63.7 percent of his throws. Watson can’t afford to look past this week’s opponent North Carolina in anticipation of next week’s bye and a Oct. 29 showdown at No. 14 Florida State.

2. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson: The Cardinals were idle last week, but Jackson still leads FBS players in total QBR (92.6). He’s also leads the nation with 14 rushing TDs and his 688 rushing yards ranks 10th. Jackson returns to the national stage on Friday and a big performance against Duke should vault him back to the front of the Heisman race.

3. Washington QB Jake Browning: All he does is throw touchdown passes. Browning leads the nation with 23 TD tosses. He averages a touchdown per six attempts. And he’s thrown just two interceptions. He’s No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency (204.9) and completes 72.2 percent of his throws.

In the hunt: Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett, Florida State RB Dalvin Cook, Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers, Texas A&M DL Myles Garrett and Alabama QB Jalen Hurts.


1. Alabama
2. Ohio State
3. Clemson
4. Washington

Next two: Michigan and Texas A&M


Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl: Washington
1. Rose Bowl: Utah
2. Valero Alamo Bowl: USC
3. National University Holiday Bowl: Washington State
4. Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona State
5. Hyundai Sun Bowl: Colorado
6. Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford
7. Motel 6 Cactus Bowl: California
8. St. Petersburg Bowl*: UCLA

Not Projected Bowl Eligible: Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona.
*No ACC team projected available.

Southern California defensive back Adoree’ Jackson (2) celebrates as he walks on the field in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Utah, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) UTRB104



USC (3-2, 2-2) at Arizona (2-4, 0-3), 12:30 p.m. FOX (USC by 8.5 points): The Trojans have won two straight games while the Wildcats have lost three in a row. USC’s new QB Sam Darnold is looking more comfortable with every start. Meanwhile, banged up Arizona isn’t sure who will line up under center on Saturday. The pick: USC 38-20.

No. 21 Utah (5-1, 2-1) at Oregon State (2-3, 1-1), 1 p.m. Pac-12 Networks (Utah by 9): Utes coach Kyle Whittingham reunites with OSU coach Gary Andersen, his former defensive coordinator at Utah. The It’s the first of back-to-back road games for the Utes who travel to UCLA next week. The pick: Utah 27-23.

Stanford (3-2, 2-2) at Notre Dame (2-4), 4:30 p.m. NBC (ND by 3): Before the season this game was supposed to have College Football Playoff implications. Now Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly has landed on the proverbial hot seat and the Cardinal has fallen out of the Pac-12 title race. If Stanford can get healthy, it has enough talent to avoid a third straight loss and salvage the season. The pick: Stanford 33-30.

Arizona State (5-1, 2-1) at Colorado (4-2, 2-1), 5 p.m. Pac-12 Networks (Colorado by 13.5): Key Pac-12 South showdown between division leaders. The Sun Devils are hoping The pick: Colorado 38-27.

UCLA (3-3, 1-2) at Washington State (3-2, 2-0), 7:30 p.m. (No early line): Two of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 headline this battle. That is assuming Bruins sophomore Josh Rosen is able to play after twice being knocked out of last week’s game. “Josh is beat up,” coach Jim Mora said. “He has taken some horrible hits because we can’t protect for him.” UCLA ranks last in Pac-12 averaging 99 rushing yards. Meanwhile, WSU QB Luke Falk has benefited from a developing ground game that’s averaging 149.2 yards (10th in Pac-12). The pick: WSU 40-23.