The Pac-12 won’t have a team in the College Football Playoff, but this league is the deepest in the nation, featuring 10 teams with a .500 record or better. Four teams from the Pac-12 finished in the top 25 of the playoff committee rankings, with Stanford the highest at No. 6, followed by Oregon at No. 15.
Stanford claimed the conference title with a victory over USC, giving the Cardinal at least 11 wins in four out of coach David Shaw’s five seasons. Oregon started 3-3 after an injury limited quarterback Vernon Adams in the first half of the year. However, the Ducks finished fast and ended the regular season with six consecutive victories. The North Division also featured two improving teams – Washington State and California – and a team on the rise in Washington. The South Division featured a crowded race at the top, but the Trojans claimed the division title after a win over UCLA on Nov. 28. Utah recorded with its best mark in conference play (6-3) since joining the Pac-12, while UCLA finished 8-4 behind true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen.
With the regular season completed and bowl season starting on Dec. 19, it’s time to recap and look back at the 2015 campaign. Athlon Sports offers its awards and honors the best players in the league with the first and second all-conference teams for the Pac-12:
Pac-12 2015 Season Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
McCaffrey was the nation’s best all-purpose player in 2015. The sophomore led the Pac-12 with 1,847 rushing yards and recorded eight scores and caught 41 passes for 540 yards and four touchdowns. McCaffrey showcased his big-play ability on special teams, averaging 28.9 yards per kickoff return and completed two of three pass attempts for 39 yards and two touchdowns this season. McCaffrey's 3,496 all-purpose yards set a new FBS single-season record.
Runner Up: Luke Falk, QB, Washington State/Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
Defensive Player of the Year: DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon
It’s a close call between Buckner and Utah linebacker Gionni Paul for the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. The edge goes to Buckner, as the senior dominated the line of scrimmage for the Ducks this season. Buckner recorded 9.5 sacks (second in the Pac-12), 16 tackles for a loss and 76 overall stops.
Runner Up: Gionni Paul, LB, Utah
Coach of the Year: Mike Leach, Washington State
Leach is the easy pick for coach of the year honors after Washington State made a five-game improvement in the win column this season. The Cougars finished 3-9 last year but made significant progress behind new quarterback Luke Falk and an improved defense under new first-year coordinator Alex Grinch. Leach guided the program to road wins at UCLA, Oregon and Arizona and fell just short of an upset (30-28) against Stanford.
Runner Up: David Shaw, Stanford
Freshman of the Year (Offensive): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
UCLA’s offense has a promising outlook for the future with Rosen at the helm. The true freshman started all 12 games, threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns and averaged 279.2 yards per game. Rosen tossed only two picks over the last six games and passed for 399 yards in UCLA 40-24 victory over California on Oct. 22.
Runner Up: Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington
Freshman of the Year (Defensive): Cameron Smith, LB, USC
Smith was a standout performer for coach Clay Helton in 2015, and the true freshman is a building block for USC’s defense in 2016. Despite a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 13 against Colorado, the California native tied Su’a Cravens for the team lead in tackles (78) and registered three pass breakups and one sack. Smith turned in one of the top individual performances on defense for the Trojans in 2015, intercepting three passes and returning one for a touchdown against Utah on Oct. 24.
Runner Up: Kareem Orr, CB, Arizona State
Coordinator of the Year: Pete Kwiatkowski, Defensive Coordinator, Washington
Kwiatkowski is one of the Pac-12’s underrated coaches, as he’s developed one of the league’s top defenses in just two seasons in Seattle. The Huskies led the Pac-12 by limiting opponents to just 4.86 yards per play and 17.8 points per game in 2015. Washington’s defense improved in both statistical categories despite losing three standouts – Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton and Hau’oli Kikaha – off last year’s group. Under Kwiatkowski’s direction, the Huskies have developed the top secondary in the Pac-12, as this unit allowed only nine passing scores all season.
Runner Up: Mike Bloomgren, OC, Stanford
Newcomer of the Year: Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon
Oregon’s 2015 season might have looked a little different if Adams managed to stay healthy all season. The Eastern Washington transfer was a dynamic addition to the Ducks’ high-powered attack, throwing for 2,446 yards and 25 touchdowns. The senior has a knack for producing big plays and connected on 20 passing plays of 30 yards or more this season. A finger injury limited Adams early in the year, but he returned at full strength by mid-October and guided Oregon’s offense to an average of 48.6 points per game over the final five contests.
Runner Up: Matt Hegarty, C, Oregon/Shalom Luani, DB, Washington State
Breakout Player: Luke Falk, QB, Washington State
Falk’s four-game audition for the starting job at the end of the 2014 season showed the former walk-on was capable of handling the controls of Washington State’s high-powered offense. It’s probably safe to say Falk exceeded most of those preseason expectations, as he earned first-team Athlon Sports All-Pac-12 honors at quarterback and threw for 4,266 yards and 36 touchdowns. Falk’s emergence is a big reason why Washington State improved its win total by five games from 2014 to 2015.
Runner Up: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Pac-12 2015 Postseason All-Conference Team
Luke FalkWashington State
QB Jared GoffCalifornia
RB Paul PerkinsUCLA
RB Myles GaskinWashington
AP Charles NelsonOregon
Gabe MarksWashington State
WR Jordan PaytonUCLA
WR Nelson SpruceColorado
TE Thomas DuarteUCLA
C Josh MitchellOregon State
OG Isaac SeumaloOregon State
Zach Banner USC
OG Isaac AsiataUtah
Joe DahlWashington State
OT Conor McDermottUCLA
OT J.J. DielmanUtah
DeForest Buckner Oregon
DL Antwaun WoodsUSC
DL Aziz ShittuStanford
DL Darryl PauloWashington State
Antonio LonginoArizona State
DL Destiny VaeaoWashington State
LB Salamo FisoArizona State
LB Jared NorrisUtah
LB Travis FeeneyWashington
CB Chidobe AwuzieColorado
CB Ronnie HarrisStanford
S William ParksArizona
S Randall GoforthUCLA
K Andy PhillipsUtah
P Drew RigglemanArizona
KR Tim WhiteArizona State
PR Dante PettisWashington