Josh Rosen helped orchestrate the greatest comeback in UCLA history in the Bruins' opener against Texas A&M
Pac-12 After Dark gained popularity in recent years as a social media hashtag, denoting a wild finish out West. While the title suggests nighttime football, Pac-12 After Dark is more of a mindset; plenty of raucous finishes in the conference played out in the daytime during 2017.
Record-setting individual performances, the biggest comeback of the campaign and clutch moments defined the best Pac-12 games of 2017. Whether under the sun or at night, the Pac-12 lived up to its reputation for providing heart-stopping football.
15 Best Pac-12 Games of 2017 Regular Season
15. Utah 30, Arizona 24 — Sept. 22
Friday nights play a prominent role in the most exciting Pac-12 games of 2017, so it's only fitting this countdown start with one of the first of the season. Arizona spent much of the 2016 campaign getting beat like a drum by Pac-12 competition, but prospects for an improved 2017 were evident in the league opener. The Wildcats played an outstanding defensive game, particularly linebacker Tony Fields II.
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley came out after hits piled up, but Troy Williams came on and played a solid game. Williams did enough to give the Utes the edge, but it was the defense — which forced five turnovers, the last of which came after Arizona had recovered an onside kick and was driving for the win — that ultimately led Utah to the win.
14. Cal 27, Ole Miss 16 — Sept. 16
Despite missing out on a bowl game, 2017 was a promising season for Cal football. The Golden Bears showed tremendous defensive improvement under first-year head coach Justin Wilcox, and that began early on with a win over Ole Miss.
The Rebels, paying a rare SEC visit to Pac-12 country, had averaged 46 points over their first two games. Shea Patterson was among the most prolific passers through the first two weeks, but Cal's defense got to him for three interceptions, including a Cameron Goode pick-six.
13. UCLA 30, Cal 27 — Nov. 24
So many factors worked against UCLA in its regular-season finale. The Bruins were without head coach Jim Mora, fired just five days earlier. Quarterback Josh Rosen was removed from the lineup at halftime. A second straight sub-.500 finish without a bowl bid seemed likely. But Cal, who also was playing for its postseason life, ran up against another factor: Rose Bowl magic.
UCLA completed a perfect season at the Rose Bowl when J.J. Molson kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired. Backup quarterback Devon Modster hit Jordan Lasley for some critical catches down the stretch, giving UCLA just enough for a 6-0 home season, and a return to the bowl season.
12. Arizona State 13, Washington 7 — Oct. 14
The biggest upset of the Pac-12 season perhaps should not have come as a surprise. Washington visited Arizona State with a lengthy track record of under-performing in the Grand Canyon State, a year prior having only escaped from last-place Arizona with an overtime win. What's more, the Huskies had not won in Tempe in almost two decades, a streak that carries on after 2017.
This year's edition was surprising in how bizarrely the game actually played out. Arizona State came in ranked among the worst rush defenses in the nation, but completely stymied all elements of the Washington offense. That stifling defensive effort was enough to compensate for a well-below-average performance out of the Sun Devils' offense.
11. UCLA 44, Arizona State 37 — Nov. 11
Both UCLA and Arizona State were jockeying for bowl positioning down the stretch. The Sun Devils came to the Rose Bowl boasting a two-game winning streak over the Bruins — and it was against Arizona State a season prior that quarterback Josh Rosen sustained a season-ending injury. Rosen's absence in 2016 was central to UCLA missing the postseason.
Conversely, Rosen was returning to the lineup against Arizona State this time around after a game-and-a-half absence. He came through for 420 yards passing, 162 of which went to Jordan Lasley. Combined with Nate Meadors' game-changing pick-six before halftime, that made the difference in a crucial win for UCLA.
10. Arizona 45, Colorado 42 — Oct. 7
A late hit on Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins on the Wildcats' first drive at Colorado proved season-changing. Dawkins was taken out of the lineup and Khalil Tate stepped in. All he did was rush for an FBS quarterback-record 327 yards to lead Arizona to the first of four straight wins in a stretch that powered the Wildcats into the Top 25 for the first time since 2014.
While Tate's theatrics garnered national attention, Colorado remained neck-and-neck with the Wildcats behind an incredible 281 rushing yards from running back Phillip Lindsay. In any other game, Lindsay would have been the story.
9. USC 28, Utah 27 — Oct. 14
It was a call Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said he would still make in hindsight — and really, had USC cornerback Ajene Harris not made a spectacular play, Whittingham's gamble to go for a would-be game-winning two-point conversion would have paid dividends.
Harris made a spectacular, open-field tackle on quarterback Troy Williams' bootleg to preserve a one-point lead — a lead gained when USC scored three straight touchdowns to storm back from down 21-7 at halftime.
8. Arizona State 37, Oregon 35 — Sept. 23
Arizona State snapped a 15-year losing skid to Oregon in 2017, and the Sun Devils did so in dramatic fashion. Sun Devil Stadium was rocking when Manny Wilkins scored two early touchdowns, but Oregon battled back. A Justin Herbert touchdown run gave the Ducks a fourth-quarter lead, but the third of Brandon Ruiz's field goals with just 2:33 left to play and a big defensive stand gave Arizona State the win.
N'Keal Harry dominated the Ducks with 170 yards on the night.
7. Arizona 45, Cal 44 (2OT) — Oct. 21
In his previous two outings, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate had already started to become the talk of college football. In the Wildcats' double-overtime win at Cal, it was a different Arizona player thrust into the lineup that ended up being the difference.
Senior running back Zach Green, typically a short-yardage and goal-line back, stepped in with Nick Wilson injured and J.J. Taylor ejected on a targeting penalty. Green rushed for 130 yards and a pair of scores to complement Tate's two passing and one rushing score. With Tate and Green rolling, Cal head coach Justin Wilcox opted to play for the win in double-overtime.
Freshman linebacker Colin Schooler's deflection secured the win for Arizona.
6. USC 27, Texas 24 (2OT) — Sept. 16
Seniors on the 2017 USC and Texas football rosters were only in fifth or sixth grade when these programs met in arguably the greatest college football game ever played, the 2006 Rose Bowl. Still, the aura of that BCS Championship Game lingered over the 2017 rematch, right down to Texas converting big fourth downs late in the game and scoring an improbable touchdown in the final minute.
This time around, however, USC answered. Sam Darnold (above, right) moved the Trojans down the field to set up the first of two clutch field goals by walk-on placekicker Chase McGrath, the second of which delivered a double-overtime win.
5. USC 30, Stanford 27 — Dec. 1
Since its inception in 2011, the Pac-12 Championship Game produced just one game decided by single digits: Stanford's win over UCLA in 2012 by a field goal. The league was overdue for a thrilling title tilt, and got it in 2017.
USC never trailed, but Stanford was right on the Trojans' heels throughout — even threatening to take the lead on a goal-line stand in the fourth quarter. Chris Hawkins and Uchenna Nwosu's back-to-back stops forced a turnover on downs, and Sam Darnold's 54-yard strike to Michael Pittman Jr. sealed USC's first conference championship since 2008 — and the first South division winner of the Pac-12 Championship Game since its inception.
4. Stanford 30, Washington 22 — Nov. 10
Friday nights were alright for upsets in the Pac-12 in 2017. Two of the conference's most exciting games were on Friday nights, including this one that fundamentally shook up the championship landscape.
Defending Pac-12 champion Washington hosted Stanford on a Friday in 2016 and squashed the Cardinal in a thoroughly one-sided rout. Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey was held in check that night, but the Huskies could not do the same to running back Bryce Love. His three touchdowns solidified his spot among the 2017 Heisman finalists, and elevated Stanford to its fourth Pac-12 Championship Game appearance in the last six seasons.
3. Washington 33, Utah 30 — Nov. 18
A timeout proved pivotal to Washington's come-from-behind win over Utah on Nov. 18. A touchdown run by Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley early in the fourth quarter gave the visitors a 30-23 lead they held much of the period, limiting Washington's run game to just three yards per carry. The Huskies forced a quick punt late in the fourth, setting up a Myles Gaskin touchdown run.
Another forced punt on the ensuing possession gave Washington the ball, albeit without prospects of doing anything more than forcing overtime — until a timeout call after first down changed Chris Petersen's strategy. The Huskies attacked and drove into field-goal territory, giving Tristan Vizcaino the opportunity to boot through a 38-yard game-winner after Jake Browning threw a 31-yard completion to Andre Baccellia.
2. Washington State 30, USC 27 — Sept. 29
In a scene Washington State head coach Mike Leach described as "Woodstock except everybody's got their clothes on," the Cougars scored their first win over USC in Martin Stadium since the 2002 season. Quarterback Luke Falk passed for two touchdowns in the Washington State win, but it was running back Jamal Morrow with his fourth-quarter touchdown run and linebacker Jahad Woods, whose strip-sack of Sam Darnold, that came through as the Cougars' heroes.
1. UCLA 45, Texas A&M 44 — Sept. 3
Well before Texas A&M pulled ahead of UCLA 44-10 in the third quarter of their season-opening matchup, the game felt over. The Aggies came into the Rose Bowl and ran all over UCLA's defense, while limiting Josh Rosen and the Bruins' offense. Outside of punter Stefan Flintoft, it was a rough evening for UCLA.
Until... it wasn't. What started as garbage-time points late in the third quarter suddenly sparked some energy in the Rose Bowl. With Nick Starkel sustaining an injury, the Aggies' offense became stagnant just as UCLA's came alive. Once Rosen found Darren Andrews on a 42-yard touchdown pass that was nearly intercepted, it started to feel like the Bruins could really do it. And they did.
The rally from 34 points down is the second-largest in Div. I history, and surpassed UCLA's previous greatest comeback by two touchdowns.