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Pac-12 Second-Half Predictions and Midseason Review

Washington Huskies

Washington Huskies

There are 11 Big 5 teams left in college football that have yet to lose a conference game and none of them reside in the Pac-12.

The talk in the preseason was that the Pac-12 could be the league that was deep enough to challenge the SEC for national conference supremacy. It certainly doesn’t appear that like that talk was accurate, as the SEC is head and shoulders above the rest of the nation.

But that doesn’t mean that the Pac-12 isn’t the most entertaining league in the nation.

The quarterback play has been as good as advertised with four of the top eight Big 5 quarterbacks in the nation in terms of total offense playing in the Pac-12. And this list doesn't include Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion or Cody Kessler.

The quality of coaching is shining in places like Tucson, Seattle, Berkeley and Salt Lake City as every road trip in this league has become extremely difficult no matter the situation.

And what other league can boast three successful Hail Marys — two of which came on the final play of the game?

Oregon’s win over UCLA has given the Ducks the top spot in the Pac-12 power rankings and likely the best shot at making the College Football Playoff moving forward. But the real story out West is the quality of depth this league can offer. Neither division is even close to being decided, as the North and South each boast four one-loss teams with seven weeks left to play.

It may not be the best league in the nation but it’s definitely the most entertaining.

Midseason Reviews and Second-Half Predictions
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2014 Pac-12 Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions


Coach of the Year: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

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Very few (me) picked Arizona higher than fourth in the Pac-12 South entering the season (I had them at No. 2), so the job Rich Rodriguez has done in Tucson getting his Wildcats to a Top 10 ranking (for one week) has been nothing short of shocking (to some). Despite the loss to USC, Arizona is still right in the mix for the Pac-12 South championship with games looming against UCLA, Arizona State and Utah in the division. The win over Oregon might be the best win for any team in the nation to date.

Newcomer of the Year: Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
The redshirt freshman has been brilliant in his first six games as a college quarterback. Solomon is third in the nation in total offense at 382.7 yards per game and has thrown 15 touchdown passes. His play in the fourth-quarter comeback against Cal as well as the road win at Oregon would be considered brilliant for a senior much less a freshman. Solomon is a big reason why Zona is in the thick of the Pac-12 South race.

Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The stats speak for themselves. Mariota has completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 1,621 yards, 17 touchdowns and no interceptions while running for his life behind a banged-up offensive line. He has added 290 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground while leading the nation in passer rating at 193.72. He has been brilliant all season and already has wins over ranked opponents Michigan State and UCLA.   

Defensive Player of the Year: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
A defensive player can’t do much else to get himself mentioned in the Heisman Trophy conversation than what Thompson has accomplished in the first half of the season. He is tied for the team lead with five touchdowns — four of which have come on defense — a total that would also pace UCLA, Stanford or Utah. He is top 10 in the league in tackles with 45 and has 220 return yards on his four defensive touchdowns. He has 2.0 tackles for a loss, one sack and two forced fumbles as well.

Midseason Disappointment: Washington State
UCLA’s offensive line might also qualify for this award, but with losses to Nevada, Rutgers and Cal, Mike Leach’s squad is likely to miss a bowl game. After positive growth last season and a clearly improved Conn0r Halliday, a 2-5 start to the season for the Cougars is a major disappointment. Especially, for a team many believed would be playing in the postseason.

Midseason Surprise: Cal 
Arizona would qualify as well, especially, if the Cats go on to win the South. But right now, the most pleasant surprise in the Pac-12 has to be the Cal Golden Bears. This team is one play away from being 3-1 in the league after losing 14 consecutive Pac-12 contests entering this fall. There are a lot of tough games left on the schedule but to be two wins from a bowl game just halfway through the schedule is a huge tip of the cap to Sonny Dykes.

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Three Things to Watch in Second Half 

1. Oregon's offensive line
With Jake Fisher back against UCLA, the Ducks' offensive line looked as good as it has since the beginning of the season. Oregon has two huge games looming with Stanford and Washington — two of the best defensive fronts in the nation — and this group will have to be excellent to win those games. If this group stabilizes, Oregon could win the Pac-12 and land in the Playoffs while giving Marcus Mariota a great shot at the Heisman. If not, the Ducks could finish with three losses and another Alamo Bowl bid.

2. South Division upstarts
Arizona, Utah and Arizona State were not supposed to be in the race in the South but all three already have key wins over conference contenders. USC and UCLA still might be the best teams and have the inside track on playing at Levi’s Stadium but the rest of this division is extremely competitive. The Utes, Wildcats and Sun Devils all feel like they belong in the conversation and with wins over UCLA, Oregon and USC respectively, it appears they might be right about that.

3. Connor Halliday's assault on the record book
Halliday already owns the NCAA single-game record for attempts (89) and yards (734) but is charging toward the NCAA single-season passing record as well. With a host of other records on the line, the one bright spot in Pullman this season could be the nation’s leading passer and his chase for more history. Let’s face it, no one makes losing more entertaining than Halliday and the Cougs.

Top Five Games in Second Half

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1. Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)
It's been the biggest game in the Pac-12 for the last half decade and it appears this matchup will fill the bill as far as the rest of the slate goes. A trip to the Pac-12 title game and/or College Football Playoff could be on the line. Stanford has dominated this series of late and its defense should be extremely difficult to move the ball against based on Oregon's offensive line woes.

2. USC at UCLA (Nov. 22)

The Pac-12 South title could be on the line when these two cross-town rivals and historic brands meet on the second to last weekend of the regular season. A win for either team could knock the loser out of the South Division race.

3. Stanford at UCLA (Nov. 28)
The Bruins' front line will be tested once again against one of the nastiest defensive fronts in the nation. UCLA might already be out of the race by the final weekend but if not, this game could decide the South Division champion.

4. Washington at Oregon (Oct. 18)

This game got a lot more interesting when the Huskies and Ducks won impressive road games in Week 7 over Cal and UCLA respectively. With a loss to Stanford, Washington's North Division title hopes hang in the balance against Oregon in Eugene.

5. UCLA at Washington (Nov. 8)

Most of the big games left for UCLA will come at home with the exception of this road trip north to Seattle. Both teams should still by eyeing a spot in the Pac-12 title game when they meet in Husky Stadium. And two of the best uniforms will be on the same field at the same time.

Next up: Arizona State at Arizona, Washington at Arizona, Arizona at UCLA, Notre Dame at USC, Oregon at Utah, Oregon at Oregon State


Projecting the Final 2014 Pac-12 Standings

North

Braden Gall

Mitch Light

David Fox

Steven Lassan

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

South

Braden Gall

Mitch Light

David Fox

Steven Lassan

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

Champ: