Happy Thanksgiving from our Pac-12 blog family to yours. We are thankful for a number of things, including the fact that we get to write about football (and that everyone always agrees with everything we’re thinking and writing).
But here are a few other things we’ve found ourselves thankful for this season in the Pac-12:
Ted Miller: I’m thankful for team trainers, because the Pac-12 sure needed them this season: It’s difficult to see any humor in injuries, so it’s actually pretty dark that the Pac-12 season has been strongly connected to them. From Arizona’s All-Everything LB Scooby Wright to Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams' pesky finger to UCLA’s defense losing three potential all-conference performers the first month of the season, the Pac-12 race and season has been significantly changed by injuries. Thus, let’s tip a hat to the guys on the front lines, trying to get these guys healthy again -- for this season and the future.
Kevin Gemmell: I’m thankful that the USC-UCLA game is once again relevant beyond the borders of Los Angeles. And, for that matter, I’m thankful that once again the Pac-12 South will come down to the final week and a rivalry game. How great was it last season when it came down to the Territorial Cup? We knew the South would be a mess again in 2015. But chaos also drives drama, and the South has certainly delivered in that department.
David Lombardi: I’m thankful for surprises. At this moment, Stanford leads the Pac-12 in scoring offense (40.9 points per game), while Washington leads in defense (allowing 21.2 points per game in league play). Very few people saw those two developments coming, especially after the Cardinal struggled offensively throughout much of last season and the Huskies lost about two tons of defensive star power to the NFL draft. The surprises continue with Washington State’s defensive surge -- the Cougars’ previously clueless pass defense suddenly ranks second in the Pac-12 (allowing 6.4 yards per attempt). There have been negative surprises, too: Arizona State’s pass defense ranks last in the league, while no one expected Oregon State’s offense to be this bad (averaging only 14.8 points per conference game). But we like the unpredictable -- it keeps us on our toes.
Chantel Jennings: I’m thankful for the massive amount of young talent conference teams have this season and what that means for the future. From UCLA freshman quarterback Josh Rosen slinging it around Los Angeles to Washington running back Myles Gaskin leading all true freshmen in the country in rushing yards to Utah receiver Britain Covey giving 5-foot-7 players hope, this has been a great season for freshmen in the Pac-12. It's been fun to watch each of these guys progress through the year and even more exciting to imagine how good they’ll be next season and after.
Kyle Bonagura: I’m thankful for the College Football Playoff. Even though the Pac-12 probably won’t be taking part this season, the discussion that comes from the playoff is so much more interesting than anything during the BCS era. That Stanford still -- kind of, maybe -- has a chance to earn a playoff spot makes this week’s game against Notre Dame so much more interesting. The sport is better because of it. I’ll also be thankful when it goes to eight.
Miller: I’m also thankful for Pac-12 hospitality because road teams seem to be enjoying their travels: Visiting teams are 25-24 in conference games this season, which means there’s been plenty of generous hosting. While that seems like a dubious distinction most of the year -- We must, after all, protect this house! -- it feels warm and fuzzy during Thanksgiving week.
Gemmell: I’m thankful that, once again, the Pac-12 will be sending at least nine teams to the postseason, with the potential for a 10th if Washington is able to upend Washington State in the Apple Cup. In the playoff era, it’s easy to dismiss conference strength (which will inevitably happen if/when the Pac-12 misses the playoff) if you aren’t one of the final four teams. But nonconference and bowl records are still one of the best measuring sticks for conference depth and strength. And heading into the final noncon game with Stanford and Notre Dame, the Pac-12 has enjoyed a 28-8 nonconference record this season. Expect that win total to climb into at least the mid-30s during bowl season.