Pac-12 North Notebook: It’s time for midseason awards
The first half of the Pac-12 season was chalk full of surprises. At the Pac-12 Media Days in August, USC and Oregon were heavily favored to take their division titles and meet up in the Pac-12 Championship game. So far, those teams are a combined 7-6. Meanwhile, Utah has been the conference’s most dominant team, while Stanford has turned into an offensive juggernaut after scoring a paltry six points in its season opener. As the first-half of the season comes to an end, it’s time to look back at who has shined and who has faltered thus far.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford, RB, So.
After gaining 369 all-purpose yards in Stanford’s 56-35 win over UCLA, sophomore sensation Christian McCaffrey isn’t just the top player in the Pac-12, he may be one of the best players in the entire country.
McCaffrey has gained over 245 all-purpose yards in four consecutive games – all Stanford victories – and has nearly single-handedly vaulted Stanford’s offensive attack into a powerhouse.
McCaffrey’s 369-yard performance versus UCLA is the highest single-game total in the FBS this season and his 1,518 all-purpose yards leads the nation.
Freshman of the (half) year:
Myles Gaskin, Washington, RB, Fr.
The Pac-12 North hasn’t seen a ton of standout freshman this season; however, Washington RB Myles Gaskin has been fantastic for the Huskies over the past two weeks.
Gaskin ranks eighth in the Pac-12 in rushing yards (498) and sixth in touchdowns (5). Over the past two weeks, Gaskin has really put on a show against USC and Oregon. Gaskin rushed for 134 yards against the Trojans and followed that up with a 155-yard performance against the Ducks.
Biggest Surprise (Team):
No. 20 California Golden Bears (5-1, 2-1)
While the Bears were expected to be competitive in the Pac-12 North due to the fact that they had the services of the best QB in the conference, Jared Goff, no one thought Cal’s defense would be the key to the team’s success.
The Bears defense was ranked No. 124 in the country in 2014 and only forced 17 turnovers on the year. Through six games, the Bears defense has forced 21 turnovers en route to a 5-1 record and a No. 20 ranking.
Biggest Surprise (Player):
Luke Falk, Washington State, QB, So.
After a lengthy preseason QB battle at Wazzu, Luke Falk emerged as Mike Leach’s next gunslinger. Falk has been everything Leach expected and more.
Falk has led the Cougars to a 4-2 record, including an upset victory over Oregon in Eugene. He’s also putting up video game-type numbers that would make any air raid coach blush.
Falk is completing 72.3-percent of his passes, second best in the nation, and is ranked fifth nationally in passing yards (2,371) and touchdowns (21).
Biggest Disappointment (Team):
Oregon Ducks (4-3, 2-2)
Coming off of a 13-2 season that saw the Ducks reach the College Football Playoff national title game, they were once again expected to be among the nation’s elite. So far, the team has played like an also-ran.
After hanging tough against a great Michigan State team in East Lansing, the Ducks fell apart. Their QB, Vernon Adams Jr., broke his right index finger and missed the better part of three games, including a disastrous 62-20 loss to Utah and a double-overtime loss to Washington State, both of which came at home.
Oregon’s defense ranks No. 113 in the nation and the secondary has been one of the worst units in the nation.
The Ducks could turn things around as Adams is once again healthy. But, at this point, Oregon has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country.
Biggest Disappointment (Player):
Whether it was Adams, redshirt junior Jeff Lockie or redshirt sophomore Taylor Alie, Oregon’s QB situation has been a wreck.
Adams has been productive, when healthy, accounting for 853 yards and six touchdowns in just over three games of work. However, Lockie and Alie failed to step in and play well during Adams’ absence.
Oregon ranks just No. 10 in the Pac-12 in passing offense.
Utah 62-Oregon 20 (Sept. 26)
Oregon suffered one of its worst defeats in school history at the hands of the Utes in late September. The Ducks allowed five passing touchdowns, including one from RB DeVontae Booker and were absolutely destroyed on special teams.
The loss sent Oregon out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2009.
Most Viral Moment:
Ducks re-create "Animal House" scene
One of Oregon’s finest traditions is singing "Shout" in between the third and fourth quarters of every game. Well, Otis Day and The Knights are back and are still shouting — now with the assistance of some Oregon Ducks legends.
In an incredible re-creation of the infamous "Shout" scene in "Animal House," the former Ducks put on an absolute show.
Stanford WR Francis Owusu’s catch of the year TD vs. UCLA
Leading 35-17 in the third quarter, Stanford decided it was time to pull a trick out of the bag. Setting up from the Wildcat, Christian McCaffrey took the snap, handed it to running back Barry Sanders, who then flipped the ball to quarterback Kevin Hogan. Hogan launched a deep 41-yard pass over the middle to wide receiver Francis Owusu … and then it happened.
It wasn’t just a great catch, it was the catch of the year. Contest over. Game over.
Player to Watch in second half:
Darren Carrington, Oregon, WR, RS So.
Oregon’s downfield aerial attack has been less than stellar this season. However, with Darren Carrington back after a half-season NCAA suspension, the Ducks could be in good shape down the stretch.
Carrington, who broke out as a star wideout towards the end of the 2014 season, caught five passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns for the Ducks in their 26-20 win over Washington.
Over his past three games (Pac-12 title game, Rose Bowl, Washington), Carrington has caught 19 passes for 416 yards and five touchdowns.
Best game left on the calendar:
No. 11 Notre Dame (6-1) vs. No. 10 Stanford (5-1, 4-0)
Yes, this is a non-conference game. However, based on the fact that this is Stanford’s last game of the season and it may act as a pseudo College Football Playoff quarterfinal game, it certainly qualifies as the best game left.
If Stanford and Notre Dame win out until Nov. 28, this game is going to have a ton of national cache.
Who makes the CFP Playoff:
1. Baylor 2. Ohio State 3. LSU 4. Stanford
Team most likely to fall out of playoff race:
No. 3 Utah Utes (6-0, 3-0)
Utah has been the most complete team in the country this season and has the best resume of any team in the nation.
While the Utes’ schedule is manageable from here on out, the team’s overall cache with voters may take a hit with any single loss.
Moreover, Utah’s lack of depth is concerning as the season wears on. This looks like a team that could lose two games from here on out and could find itself playing in one of the New Year’s Six bowls, but not in the College Football Playoff.
Jason Gold covers the Pac-12 for FOX Sports. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.