Power Five1. Oregon
4. Arizona State
It was a wild year at the beginning of the season and it carried all the way until the end.
But when Friday night's Pac-12 Championship Game wrapped up, it was what most expected- Heisman Trophy front runner Marcus Mariota and Oregon winning the conference and clinching a spot in the first ever College Football Playoff.
The Ducks road was a little different then expected- most thought they'd be unbeaten when they got to Santa Clara, but an early season loss to Arizona didn't derail them. If anything, it got them back on track and from the next week in Pasadena, when they thumped UCLA, till their next visit to Pasadena, for the Rose Bowl and the national semifinal, the Ducks showed they were the class of the Pac-12.
Who they played in Levi's Stadium was a surprise, though. Most expected it to be UCLA, picked to win the South, but a last-game loss to Stanford knocked the Bruins out and Arizona, who wrote the book on exciting finishes this year, instead won the division.
While the conference title game didn't go like the Wildcats had hoped, a 10-win season when they started a redshirt freshman quarterback and replaced the finest running back in school history, and clinched a New Year's Six bowl in their backyard, the Fiesta Bowl, will be one Arizona will gladly take.
The Pac-12 South had five teams ranked in the final CFB Playoff Poll, proving they were no worse than the second best division in college football.
UCLA, Arizona State and USC all finished just behind Arizona at 6-3 in the division, and Utah, which beat both the Los Angeles schools, was 5-4.
The Bruins beat the Trojans for the third year in a row, but their loss to the Cardinal in the final game was a microcosm of the season- just when it looked like folks believed in the Bruins, they'd lay an egg. And it was Butkus Award Winner Eric Kendricks who got the national attention instead of Brett Hundley.
Arizona State manuevered through Taylor Kelly's injury and looked like they were going to take the Pac-12 South when Kelly returned, but two losses in their final three games kept them from a return trip to the conference title game. But a nine-win season considering the losses on defense was a big deal for the Sun Devils.
The Trojans lost some close ones (Arizona State and Utah) and won some close ones (Stanford and Arizona), and had a roller coaster season under Steve Sarkisian in his first year, but their throttling of Notre Dame in the final regular season game may have been their best performance of the year on both sides of the ball.
Unfortunately for Colorado, playing in a tough division did them no favors, and while they showed signs of progress, they went winless in the Pac-12.
In the Pac-12 North, it was, again, Oregon and Stanford as the top two, though the Cardinal reign at the top ended. Still, the Cardinal went 7-5 and more importantly, ruined UCLA's chances at the division and beat Cal for the fifth straight year.
Chris Petersen's first year in Seattle was an up and down season, but the Huskies still won eight games and finished third in the division. And the rest of the country finally got to see what Shaq Thompson does when he's got the ball in his hand.
Cal showed strides in year two under Sonny Dykes, going from one-win to five wins and on the brink of bowl eligibility. The Bears need to shore up their defense, but they can score with the best of them.
Oregon State took a step back from 2012 and 2013, and now have to replace longtime head coach Mike Riley, the longest tenured coach in the Pac-12 going in to this season. Not only is their no bowling for the Beavers, they are in the middle of a coaching search.
Coach of the Year
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona.
RichRod had to replace B.J. Denker and Kadeem Carey and inserted a redshirt freshman in Anu Solomon and a true freshman in Nick Wilson to replace those two. So what did the Wildcats do? Won the division and won 10 games and wrapped up a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. They had some bad moments (the Pac-12 Championship Game, the end of the USC game), but their brighter moments were far more memorable: a win in Autzen Stadium (the second straight win over Oregon for the Wildcats), the win over Arizona State to win the division, the last-second field goal to beat Washington and, best of all, the Hail Mary to beat Cal and start their division title season. For all he had to replace and all the success the Wildcats had, RichRod was the easy pick for Coach of the Year.
Offensive Player of the Year
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Three-time First Team All Pac-12. Offensive Player of the Year by the coaches. And the slam-dunk lock to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday. Marcus Mariota may have been the easiest selection for a conference player of the year in the country. He'll go down as one of the finest quarterbacks to ever play in the Conference of Quarterbacks, and has a chance to deliver the conference it's first National Championship in a decade.
Defensive Player of the Year
Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Wright was the Nagurski Award winner, for the country's best defensive player. Wright deservedly was named the conference defensive player of the year by the coaches, and the former two-star showed it's what you do at the next level that matters.
Offense: Top Freshman
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon and Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
Freeman was the most dynamic offensive freshman in the confernece while Wilson had to fill the biggest shoes with the departure of Carey. Both carried their teams to division titles and both will be featured backs for two more years. While Freeman got the nod from the coaches, Wilson may have lost some votes to his teammate Anu Solomon (who made a case for the award too).
Defense: Top Freshman
Adoree Jackson, CB, USC
The top recruit in the West by Scout in the 2014 class, Jackson showed how elite he is and how good he can be in the next few years at various times throughout the year. He's a dangerous playmaker with the ball in his hands, has some of the best instincts from a corner in the conference in recent memory and will only get better the next few years.
Surprise Of the Year:
This year alone, the Utes beat Michigan, UCLA and USC, two of them on the road. When they lost to Washington State early in the season, people thought they would underachieve and the hot seat that Kyle Whittingham sat on would get blazing. Instead, the Utes turned around and beat UCLA on the road, beat Oregon State in overtime on the road, then beat USC at home in the final seconds. A heartbreaking loss to Arizona State in overtime stopped the streak, and then a wacky loss to Oregon messed things up. They beat Stanford on the road, in overtime again. A loss to Arizona at home ended their chances at a division crown, but they finished the year with a win over Colorado and if they can win the Las Vegas Bowl, the Utes could win nine games in what was a big gut-check year for Whittingam.