Who is Pac 12 South's midseason MVP? What is the best play of the season? Who is the biggest disappointment?
Russell Isabella/Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
At the halfway mark of the college football season, the Pac-12 South is perhaps the most confusing and unpredictable division in the NCAA.
USC, ranked in the preseason Top 10, is without a head football coach and has already lost three games. UCLA, expecting a big year from linebacker Myles Jack, lost their star defender for the season before dropping two consecutive games. Arizona, 2014’s Pac-12 South champs, lost to Stanford, 55-17. Arizona’s Scooby Wright, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, has played just two games. Arizona State has already been eliminated from serious contention after recording three early losses.
With half the season already in the books, what have been the highlights (and the moments teams would rather forget) from this crazy year?
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Devontae Booker, Utah, RB, Sr.
Before the season, Devontae Booker announced plans to "run for 2,000 yards and win the Heisman." Through six games, Booker has impressed as the most dominant player for the most intimidating team in the conference. He’s recorded 783 yards (third-best in conference; leads Pac-12 South) on 4.9 yards per carry and has scored eight touchdowns — just two short of last year’s mark. Booker has also added 23 catches for 208 yards, plus one of the prettiest touchdown passes of the year. ESPN.com lists Booker as a Heisman candidate. CBS Sports projects Booker as one of the first three backs selected in the 2016 NFL Draft. If Booker keeps shining, Utah keeps winning.
Freshman of the (half) year:
Josh Rosen, UCLA, QB, Fr.
UCLA’s Rosen was impressive in his debut, which some speculated was the best by a true freshman in NCAA history. But Rosen was arguably more impressive while looking poised vs. BYU. He three threw picks in the first half, but didn’t make mistakes in the second. UCLA won, 24-23. “He’s just a very, very composed young man,” UCLA head coach Jim Mora told USA Today. “In my whole career, I’ve never been around a starting freshman quarterback. So this is by far the best starting freshman quarterback I’ve had.” Rosen has passed for 261.5 yards per game (23rd in nation) and 12 TD’s (28th in nation) and his numbers certainly don’t reflect those of a conference newcomer.
Biggest surprise team:
No. 3 Utah Utes (6-0, 3-0)
This offseason, we predicted Utah as the fifth-best team in the Pac-12 South. During the first six weeks of the season, Utah earned seven Pac-12 Player of the Week honors. Six different players took home the award — two on offense, two on special teams and two on defense. Coach Kyle Whittingham is an early favorite for Coach of the Year. Utah has recorded two signature wins (vs. Michigan during Jim Harbaugh’s debut; on the road vs. Oregon, 62-20). Utah’s defense shut down Cal’s quarterback Jared Goff, who threw five interceptions. Should Utah win out, a spot in the College Football Playoff awaits.
Biggest surprise player:
Salamo Fiso, LB, Arizona State, Jr.
Fiso has been so impressive that Arizona State named him team captain; he was also added to the Bednarik Award Watch List for College Defensive Player of the Year. Through six games, Fiso leads the nation with 50 total tackles. Fiso also boasts 13.5 tackles for a loss, which leads the Pac-12, as well as an interception and a pass deflection. "I’ve never seen someone make the steps and strides he has this year,” said ASU receiver D.J. Foster, via AZ Central.
Biggest disappointment (team):
USC Trojans (3-3, 1-2)
In preseason rankings, USC was No. 8 in the AP Top 25. USC’s first loss to Stanford was excusable: the Cardinal look like one of the best teams in the conference and played well against the Trojans. But through six games, USC struggles to remain above .500 and boast just one conference victory.
Biggest disappointment (player):
Anu Solomon, Arizona, QB, So.
Arizona’s 2014 success brought Solomon, then a freshman, to the Pac-12 title; his sophomore year looks to be an epic slump. Solomon ranks 9th in the conference for passing yards per game (224.2 YPG) and he has recorded just one touchdown to star receive Cayleb Jones. During Arizona’s recent victory vs. Colorado, Solomon was benched for Jerrard Randall after the Wildcats trailed 24-17 in the second half. His stats are fine, he’s the only Pac-12 quarterback yet to throw an interception, but he doesn’t pass the eye test.
Steve Sarkisian lost to former school during final game at USC
Former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian needed a win vs. his previous program, the Washington Huskies. Instead, it was USC’s first time recording consecutive home losses since 2001, Pete Carroll’s first season with the program. Senior quarterback Cody Kessler looked shaky at best, recording two picks. USC lost senior center Max Tuerk for the year to injury and recorded a season-low 12 points. OC Register reports the announced 63,623-person crowd was booing by the end of the game. Sarkisian was asked to take an indefinite leave of absence three days later; he was terminated as head coach a day after that.
Most viral moment:
Jake Olson, USC’s blind long snapper, made first live-snap drill
This was an awesome story, picked up by virtually every sports media publication, and exposed all of the “good,” inspirational narratives that can happen in sports.
Pac-12 South Midseason Awards: "Most Viral Moment" goes to USC's blind long snapper's first practice. Way cool. https://t.co/t5Yss5s6x7
Colorado loses after referee fumbles during final moments of game
Don’t blame the referees for this one; Colorado had terrible clock management in an attempt to win its season-opener. Hawaii has been shut out three times since its win against Colorado, only defeating an FCS opponent: UC Davis.
Pac-12 South Midseason Awards: The "Worst Play of the Year" is Colorado's referee fumble vs. Hawaii. So weird. https://t.co/9T9zSCrHaG