Pac-12: 2011-final-team-reviews

Season recap: Arizona

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
11:30
AM ET
ARIZONA
4-8, 2-7

A 10-game losing streak to FBS foes -- starting with the final five games of 2010 -- did in coach Mike Stoops. It's worth noting that 10-game losing streak included Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford and USC in eight of those games, with a back-ended schedule in 2010 and a front-loaded one in 2011 doing in Stoops. No other team in the nation even approached that degree of difficulty during a 10-game stretch.

It was the Oct. 8 loss at Oregon State, however, that was the end, a bad loss to a bad team. The problem for the Wildcats was obvious: They could throw the ball with QB Nick Foles, but that was it. With four new offensive linemen, they couldn't run the ball. And the defense was pretty rotten.

Interim coach Tim Kish did a good job keeping the team together after Stoops was fired. First, he led the Wildcats to a surprising win over UCLA on ESPN. And, after three consecutive losses, the Wildcats won their final two games, including a 31-27 win at Arizona State.

Offensive MVP: QB Nick Foles rewrote the school's passing record book in his career. He threw for 4,334 yards and 28 touchdowns this fall with 14 interceptions. He led the conference with 361 yards passing per game.

Defensive MVP: Trevin Wade, a second-team All-Pac-12 cornerback, had 52 tackles, two interceptions and 13 pass breakups. After a down junior year, he came back strong as a senior.

Turning point: There were two for Arizona. One: The loss against Oregon State, which was the end of Stoops. Two: The win over Arizona State, which created positive momentum in advance of the hiring of Rich Rodriguez.

What's next: There is enough talent in Tucson for a return to a bowl game in 2012, starting with QB Matt Scott, who was able to redshirt this season and is the sort of dual threat who should do well in Rodriguez's spread option. There's also five offensive line starters returning, basically the opposite of 2011, as well as a number of injured defensive starters, including safety Adam Hall, CB Jonathan McKnight and LB Jake Fischer.

Season recap: Arizona State

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
11:00
AM ET
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS

Record: 6-6, 4-5 Pac-12

Arizona State had two seasons. The good one and the bad one. The bad one, however, is the one that counts because it got coach Dennis Erickson fired.

The good one was a 6-2 start that featured quality wins over Missouri and USC and had the fan base energized. The offense was high-powered with quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Cameron Marshall and the defense was fast and opportunistic.

Then the Sun Devils collapsed. They not only lost four in a row, they lost four in a row to teams they should have beaten. The biggest problem was an implosion from the defense and a sudden inability to play well in the fourth quarter.

There's more bad news. While the fan base is more focused on a meandering coaching search, the Sun Devils are getting ready to play in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas against an outstanding Boise State team, one that feasts on the mental cramps of more physically talented AQ conference teams. If ASU doesn't show up, it's going to get embarrassed.

Offensive MVP: QB Brock Osweiler played better early in the season than late, but he certainly wasn't why things went haywire. He completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,641 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also rushed for 128 yards and three scores.

Defensive MVP: On a defense that lacked consistency, LB Colin Parker was consistent. He had 67 tackles with six tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.

Turning point: How might have things gone for the Sun Devils if UCLA hadn't converted that third-and-29 play late in the fourth quarter? You don't like to reduce a season to one play, but that 33-yard pass play from one of the nation's worst passing offenses is like a big, blinking red light.

What's next: Well, for one, the Sun Devils need to hire a new coach, and it's fair to call their coaching search thus far uneven. That new coach will inherit a team with some nice young talent, most obviously Osweiler, but one that loses a number of seniors who played major roles. The trajectory of the program is impossible to measure because there are so many variables. But it is safe to say things are worse than they appeared on Oct. 29, when the Sun Devils seemed like certain South Division champions.

Season recap: California

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
10:30
AM ET
CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS

Record: 7-5, 4-5 Pac-12

California did something it hasn't done the previous two years: Finish strong. The Bears, who lost three of their final five in 2009 and their last three in 2010, won three of four to earn a berth in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl opposite Texas.

Things look pretty bad for Cal, coach Jeff Tedford and quarterback Zach Maynard on Oct. 29 after a 31-14 loss to UCLA. It was their fourth loss in five games, and the season appeared close to swirling down the toilet, which would have only increased fan frustration with Tedford.

But Cal, leaning on its running game and stout defense, rebounded to pound Washington State and Oregon State, allowing just 13 points in the two victories. And Maynard rediscovered his range. The only loss down the stretch was a tight 31-28 battle with Stanford. Cal concluded its season with a strong 47-38 win at Arizona State, which was particularly satisfying based on how poorly the Bears have played on the road the past few seasons.

Offensive MVP: First-team All-Pac-12 receiver Keenan Allen, a sophomore, caught 89 passes for 1,261 yards, averaging 105.1 yards receiving per game and 14.2 yards per reception.

Defensive MVP: Pac-12 defensive player of the year Mychal Kendricks led the tough Bears defense with 96 tackles, including 13 for losses. The senior linebacker also had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

Turning point: Rock bottom was the loss to UCLA, when Maynard threw four interceptions. But Maynard and the Bears righted themselves over the final four games. The Bears won three of four and Maynard threw just one interception -- vs. five touchdown passes.

What's next: Beating Texas would provide a cathartic cap to the season, seeing the the Old Blues still resent Longhorns coach Mack Brown for his aggressive lobbying for his team to eclipse Cal in 2004 and go to the Rose Bowl. As for the future, Cal might be sneaky good in 2012, perhaps even the top contender in the North Division behind Oregon. There's solid talent on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. If Maynard continues to improve, the Bears could be a threat to win nine or 10 games next fall.

Season recap: Colorado

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
10:00
AM ET
COLORADO BUFFALOES

Record: 3-10, 2-7 Pac-12

The first year of Pac-12 play for Colorado under new coach Jon Embree was, well, bad. The Buffaloes didn't have the speed on either side of the ball to keep up, and that is going to be an absolute must-get in recruiting if things are going to change quickly. A season-ending upset win at Utah, however, provided a nice boost heading into the offseason.

Things got off to a bad start at Hawaii. After Embree made a big deal of a road losing streak that stretched back to 2007, the Buffs looked terrible in the first half and ended up losing 34-17. They looked much better in an overtime loss to California -- a conference game that counted as a nonconference game -- and they beat Colorado State the next weekend. There were hints of progress. But then they lost at Ohio State and blew a fourth-quarter lead against Washington State. That led to five blowout defeats in a row.

Things, however, didn't completely fall apart. The Buffs rallied to win two of their final three games, beating Arizona at home and then ending that 24-game losing streak outside their home state with a 17-14 upset of the Utes.

Offensive MVP: Running back Rodney Stewart rushed for 854 yards, caught 45 passes for 571 yards and piled up 1,686 all-purpose yards. He was one of only four players in the nation to have 500 rush/500 receiving yards this season.

Defensive MVP: Senior outside linebacker Josh Hartigan led the Buffaloes in sacks for the second straight year with eight. He also had 31 tackles, 24 solo and 10 for losses, with seven quarterback hurries, three third-down stops, and a pass broken up.

Turning point: After a 1-3 start that already included a heart-breaking overtime loss to Cal, the Buffs blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead to Washington State and lost 31-27. The dagger was a 63-yard touchdown pass to Marquess Wilson with 1:10 left. Colorado went on to drop five straight -- all by 25 points or more -- before rebounding to win two of last three.

What's next: Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. It's hard to believe Colorado will be much improved next year, seeing that it loses many of its best players from 2011, including Stewart, Hartigan, QB Tyler Hansen, WR Toney Clemons and OG Ryan Miller. The Buffs need more speed and they need players who can help immediately. There is good news: The Buffs won't be playing a 13-game, no bye week schedule in 2012.

Season recap: Oregon

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
9:30
AM ET
OREGON DUCKS

Record: 11-2, 8-1 Pac-12

A third consecutive conference title has Oregon flying higher than it's ever been as a program, and the Ducks show no signs of slowing down. Of course, to get their proper respect they need to avoid going 0-3 in BCS bowl games under coach Chip Kelly when they face Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

The Ducks fell 40-27 in the much-hyped opener against LSU, with turnovers and penalties being as much a problem as an outstanding Tigers defense. After that loss, the Ducks cruised fairly easily to their next marquee showdown: at Stanford on Nov. 12. And when the Ducks whipped the Cardinal 53-30, they were back in the national title hunt. At least for a week, as USC ended the Ducks' 21-game home winning streak the next weekend, 38-35, when the Ducks missed a last-second field goal to force overtime.

Oregon bounced back to trounce rival Oregon State and then UCLA in the first Pac-12 championship game.

Offensive MVP: LaMichael James became the first back in conference history to rush for more than 1,500 yards three consecutive seasons, including 1,646 yards this year. He also scored 17 touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 210 yards and another touchdown.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Dion Jordan earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after leading the Ducks' defense with 13 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. The junior also had 40 total tackles and a forced fumble.

Turning point: It's hard to choose just one. The sloppy third quarter against LSU was when the Ducks fell out of the early national-title picture. The Stanford game, however, seems like a bigger one. While that dominant victory only briefly put the Ducks back into the national hunt, it more importantly gave the Ducks a cushion in the North Division race. Even the loss to USC, which Stanford beat, didn't ruin the Ducks' drive to the conference crown.

What's next: A Rose Bowl the Ducks need to win and another offseason when Oregon will be the consensus pick to the win the Pac-12 the following year. Even without James, a junior who is almost certain to declare for the NFL draft, the offense has plenty of weapons coming back. There's also a solid core of talent back on defense. Further, there doesn't seem to be an elite team like Stanford in the North to challenge the Ducks. Of course, the Ducks still haven't learned their NCAA fate from the Willie Lyles investigation, though there seems to be optimism around the program that sanctions won't be severe.

Season recap: Oregon State

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
9:00
AM ET
OREGON STATE BEAVERS

Record: 3-9, 3-6 Pac-12

Once thought to have the most secure job in the conference, Mike Riley's seat might be a little toastier next year after back-to-back disappointing seasons. It started with an overtime loss to Sacramento State in Week 1 and quickly snowballed as the Beavers lost five of their first six. Freshman Sean Mannion showed glimpses of what could be, tossing for 3,328 yards. But 18 interceptions to 16 touchdowns stains his 64.5 percent completion percentage.

If you're looking for things to build off of, there was the 38-21 win in the second to last game of the year over Washington. Mannion completed 26-of-37 balls for 339 yards and a pair of scores. There was the season-high 44 points the Beavers put up against Washington State -- four touchdowns courtesy of the freshman quarterback.

There were flashes, but they came so inconsistently that Oregon State could never string together a complete game -- half -- or sometimes even a quarter.

Riley gets another year to turn the ship around -- but with just eight wins in the last two seasons -- he better start moving quicker. Ranking 99th in points for (21.8) and 88th in points against (30.8) is a good way to charcoal your chair.

Offensive MVP: A case could be made for Mannion, certainly. But junior receiver Markus Wheaton, a Pac-12 honorable mention selection, caught 73 balls for 986 yards. He had just one touchdown, but drew a lot of attention with James Rodgers not being 100 percent.

Defensive MVP: Junior defensive back Jordan Poyer, who landed on the All-Pac-12 second team, led the team in passes defended (16) and also hauled in four interceptions. Worth noting that he's also one of the most versatile players on the squad, returning kicks on special teams.

Turning point: Every time another player went down to injury, it was a turning point. The Beavers only had six positions where they had the same starter all season long. But if you're looking for one individual game or moment, it's probably the Washington game. Though OSU went on to lose its regular season finale against Oregon, it still gives a little bit of momentum heading into another bowl-less offseason.

Up next: Recruit, recruit, recruit. After posting 36 wins between 2006-2009, Riley knows how to motivate and win in the Pacific Northwest. But next season will be critical to his future in Corvallis.

Season recap: Stanford

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
8:30
AM ET
STANFORD CARDINAL

Record: 11-1, 8-1 Pac-12

The 2011 Stanford Cardinal looked a lot like the 2010 team. Andrew Luck tossing touchdowns to Coby Fleener. An 11-1 record. Stepfan Taylor rushing for 1,000 yards behind Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro. Another BCS bowl game.

But the main difference this season was that expectation was higher, the spotlight brighter and every play over-scrutinized. David Shaw stepped in as head coach and calmed the seas. At times, the Cardinal looked perfect and unstoppable. Others, over-hyped and exposed. But through it all -- including the disappointing Oregon loss -- Shaw kept the team focused on whatever the next task was.

Luck turned in a Heisman-worthy season, throwing 35 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He was perfect in the red zone -- 26 touchdowns, zero interceptions -- and Shaw made the most of his cerebral quarterback by giving him control of the offense at the line of scrimmage. The tight ends were sensational and the running backs were consistent and productive, if not a little underrated.

Defensively, bright stars like A.J. Tarpley, Ben Gardner and Jarek Lancaster emerged, giving promise that even though Luck is leaving for the NFL, the Cardinal might be able to sustain some of the success from the last few years.

Offensive MVP: Luck, a Heisman finalist, performed wonderfully under the microscope. His interception total was a little higher and completion percentage a little lower because of sketchy wide receiver play, but the way he commanded Stanford's offense was brilliant. He broke John Elway's major touchdown records in three seasons and leaves Stanford as, perhaps, its most celebrated player.

Defensive MVP: Hard to pass on outside linebacker Chase Thomas, but it was safety Michael Thomas who held the team together during a rough patch midway through the year. He had a couple of off games, but when safety Delano Howell missed time with a hand injury, Thomas rotated back and forth between free and strong safety and coached up some younger players until Howell could return. He was second on the team with 61 tackles and provided three of Stanford's six interceptions.

Turning point: Luck announces last January that he's returning for another season. Those aforementioned expectations reach atmospheric heights.

Up next: Oklahoma State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. One last chance for the fourth- and fifth-year seniors, credited with turning the program around, to enjoy one last, well-earned game on the national stage.

Season recap: UCLA

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
8:00
AM ET
UCLA BRUINS

Record: 6-7, 5-4 Pac-12

Did any other team in the country have a more bizarre season than the Bruins? Quarterback switches/injuries, head-scratching wins -- and losses -- and a lame duck coach in a conference championship game. Things certainly got weird in Westwood.

Wide receiver Nelson Rosario has all of the tools to be one of the elite wide receivers in the conference -- or country for that matter. In a run-first pistol system, he still caught 61 balls for 1,106 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Joseph Fauria was perhaps the most consistent offensive player with 34 catches and six scores.

Whoever takes over as coach for the departed Rick Neuheisel isn't coming in with empty cupboards. The Bruins have enough talent on both sides of the ball to still be a force in the division. But bringing all of that talent together into a consistent, cohesive unit, is the biggest task for the next head coach. There clearly was enough talent to beat Arizona State, and enough inconsistency to lose to Arizona.

Co-offensive MVPs: Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman share the honors for their tandem work at the running back position. Both had three games where they went for more than 100 yards. Franklin did a little more of the heavy lifting, rushing for 947 yards and 6.0 yards per carry. Coleman sealed the deal with 11 rushing touchdowns and 726 yards. Together they helped UCLA to the nation's 30th best rushing offense, averaging 190.6 yards per game.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Patrick Larimore came up big with 81 tackles this season -- including 50 solo stops. He saved his best statistical games for the toughest opponents, coming up with eight solo stops against Stanford, seven against Texas and seven against Arizona State.

Turning point: A missed field goal by Arizona State gave the Bruins a shocking 29-28 win over the No. 19 Sun Devils, securing UCLA a very fragile grasp of the Pac-12 South that eventually allowed them access into the conference title game. Even though they lost two of their next three, it allowed them to extend their season -- and Neuheisel's UCLA career, by one more game.

Up next: Thanks to an NCAA waiver, the Bruins are bound for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl Dec. 31 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, where they'll face another team with a recently fired head coach, Illinois. Oh, the irony.

Season recap: USC

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
7:30
AM ET
USC TROJANS


Record: 10-2, 7-2 Pac-12

USC returned to the nation's elite in year two under coach Lane Kiffin, and it's a pity that the Trojans can't represent the Pac-12 in the bowl season due to dubious NCAA sanctions because few teams played better at season's end.

Things didn't start off with a bang. A 3-0 start wasn't impressive against weak competition, and then the Trojans were sloppy in a loss at Arizona State. There was little hint that this was a top-10 team with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback.

Then the Trojans rolled off three consecutive wins, including a dominant performance on both sides of the ball at Notre Dame. That the defense was taking such major steps after a terrible first year under Monte Kiffin was notable. USC lost a triple-overtime classic to Stanford, but then rolled off four consecutive wins to finish the season, the highlights being a 38-35 upset at Oregon and a 50-zip stomping of rival UCLA.

Offensive MVP: No quarterback in the nation was playing better than Matt Barkley at season's end. He completed 69 percent of his passes with 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions, averaging 294 yards passing per game.

Defensive MVP: Undersized but fierce redshirt freshman LB Dion Bailey was one of the key reasons the Trojans defense showed dramatic improvement this year. He tied for the team lead with 81 tackles, including two sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

Turning point: The 31-17 win at Notre Dame on Oct. 22 caused the nation to raise an eyebrow at the Trojans and see they were once against relevant. Winning on the road and taking vengeance for a horrible 2010 loss at home to the Irish also was satisfying for Trojans fans. While the win at Oregon was bigger, the win in South Bend showed that the Trojans were back.

What's next: The first issue is Barkley: Might the true junior return for his senior year, giving up almost a chance to be an early first-round pick this spring? If so, he and the combination of receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee would give the Trojans a lethal passing attack. Of course, there are other likely NFL defectors: OT Matt Kalil, S T.J. McDonald, DE Nick Perry, etc. Without Barkley, the Trojans will be talented but young heading into 2012. With him, they are national title contenders.

Season recap: Utah

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
7:00
AM ET
UTAH UTES

Record: 7-5, 4-5 Pac-12

In its first year of Pac-12 play, Utah rolled three seasons into one and then ended badly, so it's a good thing there's a Hyundai Sun Bowl ahead to ease the embarrassment of a season-ending loss to Colorado.

The Utes started 0-4 in Pac-12 play and, yes, there was some crowing from the old-school Pac-10. While that was dreary, it also was clear the Utes weren't terrible: Their 3-0 mark in nonconference play include quality road wins at BYU and Pittsburgh, both bowl teams.

After quarterback Jordan Wynn went down with a shoulder injury in game four, three things become clear. The Utes needed to: 1. run the ball; 2. play tough defense; 3. protect the football. When they did all three this season, they won. When they didn't, they lost.

After getting crunched at California -- minus-four in turnovers -- and falling to 0-4 in Pac-12 play, Utah righted itself and reeled off four consecutive wins, which put them in the middle of the South Division race as Arizona State started to crumble.

In fact, all Utah needed to do on the final weekend of the regular season was beat lowly Colorado to win the South Division. But Colorado shocked everyone and ended a 24-game road losing streak with a 17-14 win.

Still, the initial verdict is fairly positive. While the grind of Pac-12 play is far different than the Mountain West Conference, it's clear that Utah can compete in the Pac-12. They figure to be a long-term fixture in the South Division race.

Offensive MVP: Running back John White, a first-year JC transfer, finished second in the conference with 117 yards rushing a game. He also scored 14 touchdowns, while becoming the only true offensive weapon for the Utes. Teams knew he was coming. Most couldn't stop him. The Utes were 7-0 when White eclipsed 100 yards rushing, 0-5 when he didn't.

Defensive MVP: Derrick Shelby, a first-team All-Pac-12 defensive end, had five sacks and nine tackles for a loss to go along with 45 total tackles, an interception and eight pass defenses.

Turning point: The 34-10 loss at Cal dropped the Utes to 0-4 in Pac-12 play, and coach Kyle Whittingham essentially counted the Utes out of the South Division race himself. But he also called a team meeting and allowed the coaches and players to clear the air. Four consecutive wins followed and a near-miss with the division title

What's next: First comes the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech. Then comes an interesting spring practice when Wynn will need to come back and re-claim his starting spot at quarterback. Or will his replacement this year, Jon Hays, make a move? Or is there a wild-card transfer out there who might appear? In any event, with good talent on both sides of the ball scheduled to come back, quarterback(and OT) is the biggest question facing the Utes in 2012.

Season recap: Washington

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
6:30
AM ET
WASHINGTON HUSKIES

Record: 7-5, 5-4 Pac-12

After blowing out of the gates -- winning five of their first six and six of their first eight, the surprisingly hot Huskies cooled down with a three-game losing streak against Oregon, USC and Oregon State. While their early victories were probably a little closer than they'd like, sophomore Keith Price quickly established himself as the brightest up-and-coming quarterback in the conference. In his first season as a starter, he tossed 29 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, threw for 2,625 yards and managed a very respectable completion rate of 67.4 percent. Junior running back Chris Polk provided the punch out of the backfield.

Washington looks to be on the verge of cracking into the upper echelon of the Pac-12. But to do that, it's going to have to learn to win sans Seattle. Washington went 6-1 in its hometown — with five of those victories at Husky Stadium and the Apple Cup win over Washington State coming at the Seahawks' CenturyLink Field — but just 1-4 away from home. To get to the next level, they are going to have to find ways to win games like Oregon State on the road -- even if there are injuries and adversity.

Offensive MVP: Running back Chris Polk went for more than 100 yards in nine of 12 games this season, netting 1,341 yards and 11 touchdowns. At 5-foot-11, 222 pounds, he's the perfect balance of speed and power and provided a brilliant safeguard for a new starting quarterback. He averaged 111.8 yards per game -- good for 16th nationally.

Defensive MVP: Senior linebacker Cort Dennison had a terrific season, totaling 113 tackles. He had a monster game in Week 2 against Hawaii, coming up with 10 solo tackles -- and he also had an interception against Arizona. One of the most complete linebackers in the conference.

Turning point: Probably the Hawaii game -- which is when Price really arrived. He tossed four touchdowns -- including a touchdown drive following a 99-yard pick-six that cut Washington's lead to 21-14. He finished 18-of-25 for 315 yards.

Up next: Heisman finalist Robert Griffin III and Baylor in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Huskies have seen elite quarterbacks already this season -- Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Darron Thomas -- but probably no one nearly as explosive as Griffin. A victory would pass last season's win total.

Season recap: Washington State

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
6:00
AM ET
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

Record: 4-8, 2-7 Pac-12

After winning three of their first four to start the season, there was cautious optimism that Paul Wulff might have actually turned things around in Pullman. Then came the UCLA debacle -- coughing up an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. That opened up the flood gates, and the Cougars went on to lose six of their final seven and eventually Wulff, who was fired after a 38-21 loss to Washington in the season finale.

It wasn't all doom and gloom. Back-up-turned-starter-turned-backup-turned-starter Marshall Lobbestael looked pretty good at times, throwing five touchdowns in Week 2 against UNLV and 15 touchdowns in his first five games. Sophomore Marquess Wilson and senior Jared Karstetter teamed up for 142 catches, 18 receiving touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards while the Cougars as a whole finished with the country's ninth-best passing offense, averaging 322.3 yards per game.

There was also a gutty, four-touchdown passing performance by freshman Connor Halliday in a shocking 37-27 win over Arizona State -- which ultimately cost the Sun Devils the Pac-12 South and a spot in the conference title game.

Offensive MVP: A top-10 receiver nationally, it didn't matter who was under center for Washington State, Marquess Wilson caught what was thrown his way. With 82 grabs on the year, 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns, the sophomore averaged 115.7 yards per game. He came up huge in the victory over Arizona State with three touchdowns and 223 receiving yards. He found the end zone in eight of 12 games.

Defensive MVP: Tough call between linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis and sophomore defensive back Deone Bucannon, who both stood out. But Hoffman-Ellis lead the team with 88 total stops -- 64 of them unassisted -- and had 11 tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception.

Turning point: Has to be the UCLA game. Bowl eligibility would have seemed a lot more likely with four wins going into a stretch that had Stanford and Oregon in two of three weeks. And even though UCLA was down this year, it still would have been a victory over a brand-name conference opponent. Who knows what could have happened if the Cougars had held that lead in the fourth quarter.

Up next: Let the Mike Leach era begin. We know he has quarterbacks and receivers to work with. He'll excite the fan base and his offensive scheme could turn the program around in a hurry.

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