Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Pac-12 2015 Football Season Whiparound

The Pac-12 proved itself explosive, chaotic, and ultimately the domain of Stanford and the Pac-12 North, who have won every Pac-12 title since the inception of the championship game.


                Just like everybody thought, Oregon and USC met for the Pac-12 Championship at Levi’s Stadium, with the Trojans being overwhelmed by the Ducks’ dazzling athleticism and stellar quarterback play.

                Oh, snap.

                I just took for granted that everything the media predicted at Pac-12 Media Day would come to pass.  Oregon, USC, which ESPN columnist Ted Miller was already so amped about that he peppered both USC and Oregon players about the matchup despite that it was, you know, months away, would win their divisions.   It was to be the Year of the Running Back, and the Pac-12 South would unquestionably be the dominant division in 2015.

                So, yeah….

                What’s that you say?  Things didn’t go as planned? Whatever do you mean?

                First of all, injuries and a seriously underperforming defense would cripple Oregon’s run for the Pac-12 North.  The Ducks were blasted at home by Utah in the conference opener, and by the time Vernon Adams Jr. was able to return in full health and restore Oregon’s offense to the magnificent blur of years past, the Ducks had ceded pole position in the North and would never regain it.

                That’s because, as nobody predicted, Washington State ended up deciding the Pac-12 North.  The Cougars went into Autzen and pulled out an overtime win in the Eugene rain, and then on Halloween night came up just short against Stanford, providing the Cardinal with a working margin they’d need after losing to the Ducks.  That loss would be the only blemish on what would become a 9-1 mark in the country’s deepest and most competitive conference.

                So what did Stanford’s 2015 Pac-12 Championship run teach us?  Certainly it reminded us that nobody knows anything in August, or the spring, or after Week 1, for that matter.   If there is anything to be gleaned from the Cardinal’s success it may be that a powerful offense can bring a lesser defense further than a powerful defense can bring a lesser offense.

                Stanford finished tied as the best scoring offense in the Pac-12 with Oregon.  Of course, ASU finishing third in scoring offense kind of short circuits my theory in the last paragraph.   Both the Cardinal and Ducks put up 40.9 points per game in conference play, and there’s no question based on 2014 finish that Stanford unexpectedly crashed the party at the top of this category.

                Here’s how the Pac-12 did offensively in 2015 based on offensive points per drive.


Offensive Points Per Drive (National Rank)


Points/Drive inside the 40


3.59 (3)

1.21 (92)

5.63 (4)


3.01 (12)

1.41 (9)

5.03 (44)


2.76 (18)

1.27 (57)

5.34 (16)

Washington State

2.71 (18)

1.15 (117)

4.42 (89)


2.59 (29)

1.31 (42)

4.66 (78)


2.54 (33)

1.29 (47)

5.27 (25)


2.45 (42)

1.34 (28)

5.19 (28)

Arizona State

2.25 (53)

1.31 (40)

4.66 (78)


2.20 (59)

1.10 (126)

5.11 (35)


1.97 (75)

1.25 (72)

4.78 (66)


1.79 (94)

1.10 (124)

4.10 (110)

Oregon State

1.47 (112)

1.17 (108)

4.15 (105)


So what do we see?  First, having a potent offense is a very, very good thing (Duh).  The four best offenses in the conference were arguably the four best teams, including the conference champion, the Pac-12 South Champion, the hottest team in the league to close out the league (Oregon), and the Cougars, who’d have had an even better year had they not lost Luke Falk at the end of the season.

                There is more than one way to skin a defensive cat.  Stanford was one of the least explosive teams in the conference (based on drives that averaged 10+ YPP) but was by far the best offensive team.  Oregon, who finished tied in scoring offense with the Cardinal, was one of the best.  Stanford made up for its relative lack of explosiveness by being one of the best finishing teams in the country, another huge part of its offensive resurgence from the ashes of 2014.

                One of the biggest questions this year was at quarterback, where five teams played new signal callers.  Things worked out well for Vernon Adams, Jr., but he gets an asterisk in this discussion because he had experience as a college football player.  Only the Chosen Rosen led a team that finished in the top half of the league offensively, and disappointing performances from returners sabotaged the years of Utah and Arizona State.   That becomes an issue next year, with the three best offenses in the conference (Stanford, Oregon, and USC) set to replace departed starters.

                At the end of the day, the story of 2015 was the story of Stanford, winners of three of the past four Pac-12 championships.  The North once more reigned both in championships and and head to head vs. the South.  Kevin Hogan, David Shaw, and Christian McCaffrey put together an absolute masterpiece of a season in which the Pac-12 firmly established itself as the deepest and most competitive in the country.  

There is a frustration in knowing that those virtues ultimately kept Stanford out of the college football playoff, but that doesn’t diminish what the Cardinal (or the conference) accomplished this year.   Chaos and carnage are what makes this the best conference to watch and cover, and hopefully the other conferences will put on their big boy pants and play 9 conference games and a championship just as the Pac-12 does.  Then the rest of America may finally get in on the fun, and the league will get to prove itself the Conference of Champions. 

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