Oregon capped the season with a thrilling victory in a remarkable Rose Bowl Game
No one should be surprised to learn that the conference known for late-night absurdity featured a bevy of thrilling finishes in 2019. Pinpointing 10 was a challenge, in part because #Pac12AfterDark delivered such memorable moments as Arizona going 99 yards without a single pass play in its win over Texas Tech, Oregon State stunning Arizona State behind a stellar Jake Luton performance, and the USC wide receiver corps filling a highlight reel against Utah.
Colorado scored a pair of wins that just missed the cut with its overtime defeat of rival Nebraska, and an upset of Arizona State sans Laviska Shenault Jr. out in the desert. Ditto Cal's lightning-delay shocker at Washington and last-second nail-biter at Ole Miss.
All the above is to say, the Pac-12 delivers when it comes to wild finishes.
10 Best Pac-12 Games of 2019
10. Cal 24, Stanford 20 — Nov. 23
If Cal was to finally snap its losing streak in The Big Game, 2019 seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Stanford was injury-plagued throughout the campaign and staring down its first postseason without a bowl bid since 2008, while Cal came on strong down the stretch with the return of a healthy Chase Garbers at quarterback. And yet...
Stanford pulled ahead in the defensive struggle with a Cameron Scarlett touchdown late in the third quarter. A Cardinal field goal put Stanford back on top with just 2:23 to play. The Axe was on its way back to The Farm — until it wasn't.
Garbers became the hero, leading a 75-yard drive capped by his 16-yard touchdown run with just 1:04 remaining.
9. Arizona State 38, Washington State 34 — Oct. 12
With more than 1,000 total yards of offense and five leads — two of which came in the final 2:30 — Washington State's visit to Arizona State brought #Pac12AfterDark to a matinee time slot.
Jayden Daniels had wowed previously in his freshman season. But, it was his resolve on the decisive drive, including a 17-yard run on which he helicoptered into the end zone, that truly signaled the start of something special in this young career.
8. USC 31, Arizona State 26 — Nov. 9
USC teams the last few seasons have not struggled with starting fast, but instead failing to maintain the pace. This was never more so the case than at Arizona State, where Kedon Slovis deluged the Sun Devils en route to a 28-point first quarter.
The Trojans did not see the end zone again, as Arizona State chipped away at the gap. The Sun Devils ate the proverbial dinosaur one bite at a time until the gap was closed to 31-26. And, with a stop in the late fourth quarter, the stage was set for a memorable finish. That finish came, only it was USC averting disaster when Christian Rector picked off Joey Yellen at the line of scrimmage to seal USC's bowl eligibility.
7. Arizona State 31, Oregon 28 — Nov. 23
With College Football Playoff aspirations on the line, Oregon traveled into the unforgiven desert night to a land where dreams go to die. A failed fourth-down conversion attempt in the first quarter haunted Oregon throughout its loss at Arizona State, particularly during a raucous fourth-quarter comeback.
While that Sun Devils stop had an undeniable impact, the real story of the night was Jayden Daniels. His three touchdown passes and 408 yards captivated the nation. An 81-yard strike to Brandon Aiyuk delivered the dagger — or pitchfork, as it were.
6. Washington State 54, Oregon State 53 — Nov. 23
Jonathan Smith's second season at Oregon State featured plenty of memorable moments, including a rollicking win at UCLA, a blowout of Arizona, and a one-point victory over Arizona State. Behind a five-touchdown performance from Jake Luton — arguably the most underrated quarterback in the country this past season — the Beavers sat on the doorstep of bowl eligibility.
That was before Anthony Gordon went off. His six-touchdown game pushed him to the Pac-12 single-season record, and his two scores in the final two minutes capped a rally that had the Cougars trailing by 11 with a little more than four minutes to play (after Wazzu failed to protect a 10-point lead earlier in the period).
5. Utah 33, Washington 28 – Nov. 2
After losing a Friday night affair at USC, Utah steamrolled its way into November with growing College Football Playoff aspirations. But although Washington tripped up a few times in the early portion of the season, relegating the Huskies out of the Top 25, winning in Seattle is never easy. That became abundantly clear when Utah trailed 14-3 in the second quarter.
Washington went back up by eight after a Utah rally on a 40-yard Hunter Bryant touchdown reception, setting the stage for a memorable stretch out of the Utes. Jaylon Johnson's 39-yard pick-six began the deluge, which included touchdown runs from Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss. Washington got into the end zone again with a minute left, but the rally effort was too little, too late.
It was also a bad case of deja vu for the Dawgs.
4. Oregon 35, Washington 31 — Oct. 19
Jacob Eason's third touchdown pass of the afternoon put Washington ahead by two touchdowns early in the third quarter, and things looked bleak for Oregon's College Football Playoff pursuits. From that point forward, the Ducks locked down defensively and the offense was on a mission.
Oregon's three touchdown drives after trailing 28-14 went 79, 75 and 70 yards, culminating with Justin Herbert's touchdown pass to Jaylon Redd with just over five minutes remaining. The comeback provided a fitting chapter in the hostile history between rivals Oregon and Washington.
3. Oregon 37, Washington State 35 — Oct. 26
Coinciding with Oregon's slide from the apex of the Pac-12 in 2015, the Ducks began a four-year losing streak to Washington State. The Cougars started this run at Autzen Stadium with an overtime victory. Getting back to the top of the conference required the Ducks getting that particular monkey off their backs.
But when Mario Cristobal made the call to punt and put Oregon's outstanding defense on the field at its own 10-yard line, Anthony Gordon led a 90-yard touchdown drive to give Washington State a one-point lead with just a minute left. But a big kickoff return from Mykael Wright and a long reception for Juwan Johnson set the stage for Camden Lewis' streak-ending field goal.
2. UCLA 67, Washington State 63 — Aug. 23
There's an old Simpsons episode in which Bart and Milhouse consume pure Squishy syrup and go on a sugar-fueled bender through Springfield. UCLA's historic comeback to beat Washington State was the undistilled, undiluted version of #Pac-12AfterDark equivalent.
Anthony Gordon passed for a record nine touchdowns... and lost. Washington State also led by 32 points midway through the third quarter. From that point on, the two teams combined for 64 points; UCLA was responsible for 50 of them.
Now, if you enjoy defense, this game was the antithesis of "best." Otherwise, this was a spectacle not to be forgotten.
1. Oregon 28, Wisconsin 27 — Jan. 1, 2020 (Rose Bowl Game)
There cannot be a more perfect cap to a Pac-12 season than an excellent Rose Bowl Game. There have been better Rose Bowl Games out of the 105 previous, including two in this decade alone with USC-Penn State and the College Football Playoff semifinal between Georgia and Oklahoma. The Granddaddy of 'Em All also hosted the greatest college football game ever played in 2006 between Texas and USC.
However, there may not be a weirder installment when one factors in a kickoff return for a touchdown and punt-snap fumble returned for a score. Oregon's thrilling rally to win by one point marked an appropriate culmination in the career of Justin Herbert. That his game-winning touchdown run came just moments after Brady Breeze forced a fumble with the stadium still buzzing from "Shout" only adds to the magic.
The College Football Playoff has encroached on a variety of college football traditions. This year's Rose Bowl Game showed that the first bowl game's mystique endures in the new era.
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.