Play that changed the Pac-12 race


Seeing that Oregon, the eventual Pac-12 champion, won the North Division by three games, no single play greatly changed the Ducks' conference trajectory. The same can't be said for South champion Arizona, a team whose impressive late-season run could have been waylaid in September in its conference opener against California.

Everyone remembers the stunning play, which set a season-long tone for late-game dramatics in the Pac-12. The Wildcats beat Cal 49-45 on a 47-yard Hail Mary pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon to senior receiver Austin Hill on the final play of the game. The ball traveled about 63 yards in the air, and Hill caught it in the back corner of the end zone, amid a crowd that included four Bears defenders.

If that unlikely completion isn't made and everything else held true to form, UCLA would have won the South, emerging from a four-team tie with Arizona, Arizona State and USC. Each would have finished with a 6-3 conference record, but the Bruins would have prevailed with a 3-0 record among those tied teams.

Would UCLA have had a better chance against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game? Maybe. You never know.

Further, it's reasonable to wonder if Arizona's season might have suffered some season-long consequences from losing to Cal, which failed to win a conference game in 2013. The Wildcats were coming off close wins against UTSA and Nevada, showing little evidence they would become a conference contender. Twelve days after needing a miracle to beat the Bears, the Wildcats won at Oregon, a red-letter and transformative victory for Rich Rodriguez's team.

Funny thing about Arizona's Hail Mary against Cal: It was mostly par for the course in the fourth quarter. The play capped a stunning 36-point run in the final frame after the Wildcats trailed 28-6 at halftime. Solomon had four of his five touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, the Hail Mary being his 73rd pass of the game. Heck, Cal scored 14 points in the fourth quarter, which typically would bode well after leading by 22 at the break.