Gold: 2022 Pac-12 Year in Review
It was one wild year in the Pac-12, full of some major highs — or is that Heis — and major lows, chief among them UCLA and USC leaving for the greener pastures of the Big Ten. There were shocking turnarounds and disappointing collapses. There was arguably more talented passers than in any other conference, including one who ruled them all.
Ultimately, though it was another year with no College Football Playoff berths and a bowl season that left us wanting.
Here’s a look at the Pac-12 Year In Review …
Jan. 1: Utah falls to Buckeyes in rousing Rose Bowl
At Pac-12 Media Day in July, Kyle Whittingham said that winning the Pac-12 title in 2021 lifted the Utes to a whole new plateau. But he couldn’t help but sound salty about the program’s first Rose Bowl appearance, a fireworks-filled, 48-45 Ohio State win over the Utes.
Utah led 38-31 late in the 3rd quarter, but the Buckeyes outscored the Utes 17-7 in the 4th quarter on a pair of CJ Stroud touchdown passes against a defensive backfield that was basically pulling people out of the stands to play. Stroud outdueled Utah’s Cameron Rising, putting up 573 passing yards and 6 touchdowns with 1 interception, compared to 214 passing yards and 2 scores and 92 rushing yards for Rising.
Feb. 1: Caleb Williams joins Lincoln Riley in USC
Arguably the biggest transfer in the history of college football, Caleb Williams arrival in Tinsel Town was rumored for weeks but made official on February 1.
We had a sense of what Williams would do in Los Angeles after a thrilling freshman season for the Oklahoma Sooners in 2021, but a Heisman trophy as a sophomore? Nearly 50 total touchdowns and myriad USC school records? An 11-1 regular season record after the Trojans won just 4 games this year prior?
That was more than anyone could’ve hoped for.
March 24: March Sadness once more for Pac-12 men’s hoops
Another March ended in misery the Pac-12, whose streak without a national title now stretches 25 years. Despite an excellent Arizona squad and a talented if banged up UCLA team, neither team made it past the Sweet 16, while USC was bounced in the opening round.
The Wildcats ran into a physical Houston squad that held them to just 33.3 percent shooting, including just 31.8 percent from behind the arc, while the Bruins were bounced by the eventual runner-up North Carolina Tar Heels.
A year after UCLA made it to the Final Four and Oregon State and USC advanced to the Elite 8, the league regressed.
April 28: NFL Draft comes calling
While the Pac-12 has not had a College Football Playoff entrant since 2016, the league continues to pump out top-10 NFL Draft picks.
On April 28 at the Caesar’s Forum in Las Vegas, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux went 6th overall to the New York Giants while USC wide receiver Drake London went 8th to Atlanta.
It was the 3rd straight year the league had 2 players drafted in the top 18. The conference ended up with 4 1st-rounders, with Washington’s Trent McDuffie (No. 21, Kansas City) and Utah’s Devin Lloyd (No. 27, Jacksonville) also going early.
May 22: USC loads up
It was a move as controversial as it was fruitful for USC. When reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison announced his transfer to the Trojans from Pittsburgh, it ushered in a new age of college football free agency.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was livid, going as far as accusing USC head coach Lincoln Riley with tampering.
Eventually Addison had a very good season but not a great one, and his impact was somewhat muted. He finished with 59 receptions for 875 yards and 8 touchdowns and decided to skip the Trojans’ Cotton Bowl matchup to rehab his ailing ankle and to prepare for the NFL Draft.
June 30: UCLA and USC announce departure to Big Ten
In news that reverberated far beyond the confines of college athletics, UCLA and USC’s departure for the Big Ten was not just the biggest news in the Pac-12 this year, but maybe ever. In one fell swoop, Big Ten athletic director Kevin Warren pulled the conference just about even with the SEC in the media rights arms race, increased his league’s footprint to 4 times zones, attracted arguably the top 2 brands in college sports west of the Mississippi, dealt perhaps a death knell to the Pac-12 and caused a seismic shift in the sports landscape.
While it would take months on end for the Bruins to clear the move through the UC Board of Regents — while being saddled with a “Berkeley Tax” to their former UC brethren Bears — the news continued to create shockwaves and controversy. Could the 2 Los Angeles schools be joined by an Oregon or a Washington or both? Could San Diego State get its much-desired invite to the Pac-12?
The chips were still falling from the landmark decision months later.
July 15: Oregon’s Spencer Webb dies in water accident
The Ducks were rocked in mid-July with the death of tight end Spencer Webb, who slipped on a rock while swimming with friends at a nearby lake.
🙏 So full of life in every moment of the day. Your smile and energy will be missed Spencer. I love you!
— Dan Lanning (@CoachDanLanning) July 14, 2022
Webb’s passing greatly affected Oregon and many Pac-12 programs, as he was a popular figure in the league and expected to be one of the top tight ends in the conference.
July 29: George Kliavkoff drops the gloves at Pac-12 media day
Hosted in Los Angeles almost exactly 1 month after the news of the century, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff did not mince words talking about UCLA and USC’s defection, the ongoing battle of the bucks in major college athletics and the Big-12 reportedly trying to poach some key Pac-12 programs.
While saying that the league was exploring expansion, Kliavkoff said the conference hadn’t decided if it wanted to go after Big-12 members, stating, “We haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there yet or not.”
“That remark was a reflection of the fact I’ve been spending 4 weeks trying to defend against grenades that have been lobbed in from every corner of the Big 12 trying to destabilize our remaining conference,” he said. “I understand why they’re doing it, when you look at the relative media value between the 2 conferences. I get it, I get why they’re scared, why they’re trying to destabilize it. I was just tired of that.”
Sept. 3: Pac-12 put in its place
If losing UCLA and USC to the Big Ten is the injury, Oregon’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic showdown with defending national champion Georgia was the insult.
The Bulldogs didn’t just prove the SEC’s superiority over the Pac-12, one of the league’s marquee teams was sent back to Eugene with their ducktails between their legs, courtesy of a 49-3 beatdown that became the talk of college football. Sure, Bo Nix and the Ducks turned things around, but that was one brutal season kickoff for the league.
Oct. 8: Pac-12 passers take center stage
It was clear from very early on that the conference had perhaps its best collection of passers in more than a decade, but it took until October for the league to really let loose.
One week after UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson had 299 yards and 5 total touchdowns in a win over No. 11 Utah on Oct. 8, Utah quarterback Cameron Rising had 415 yards and 5 total touchdowns in a 43-42 win over No. 7 USC, out-gunning Williams, who had 381 yards and 5 scores. A week later, Oregon’s Bo Nix had 334 total yards and 5 passing touchdowns in a win over No. 9 UCLA, and a week after that, Williams had 411 yards and 5 passing scores in a 45-37 win at Arizona.
In one calendar month, Pac-12 quarterbacks must’ve have thrown for more than a mile worth of yards.
Nov. 19: Trojans enter College Football Playoff picture
It’s hard to believe given the attention paid to USC throughout the season, but the Trojans did not beat a ranked team until mid-to-late November.
But what a win it was.
The Trojans won an epic showdown with crosstown rival UCLA, with Williams setting a game record with more than 500 total yards and 3 total touchdowns in a 48-45 win. DTR was terrific, as well, throwing for more than 300 yards and 4 touchdowns, but his last-drive interception sealed the deal for the Trojans.
That win, combined with a regular season-ending win over No. 15 Notre Dame, put USC at No. 4 in the CFP rankings and on the verge of the the league’s first playoff berth since 2016…
Dec. 2: Trojans exit College Football Playoff picture
… If not for the buzzsaw that was Utah.
The preseason favorites to win the Pac-12 did just that, coming full circle for their second straight league title. After losing to Florida in The Swamp in Week 1 and then to UCLA and Oregon in conference play, the Utes backed into the Pac-12 Championship Game in Las Vegas and dealt the mighty Trojans a bad hand.
With a Playoff berth on the line for USC, the Utes banged up Williams early, imposed their physicality throughout and dealt them a Sin City smashing, 47-24.
It was a great win for the Utes, but the final Playoff blow for the Pac-12.
Dec. 3: Colorado hires Deion Sanders
There are splashes, and then there are absolute cannon balls, and Colorado jumped into the deep waters with the biggest hire in years in the Pac-12. Forget Riley, the former Oklahoma coach who’d already led quarterbacks to two Heisman Trophies.
Coach Prime brought the swagger to Jackson State, put the tiny HBCU school onto the map, then took that swagger all the way to Boulder. If he delivers for the Buffaloes, it will be a stunning turnaround.
Merry Christmas Eve, #cubuffs fans! As promised, here's my feature story on new Colorado head coach Deion Sanders – with an inside look at the man CU is getting to lead its program:https://t.co/yrG4tznWaG
— Brian Howell (@BrianHowell33) December 24, 2022
Dec. 11: Caleb Williams wins Heisman Trophy
The USC star became the league’s first Heisman winner since Marcus Mariota in 2014 and USC’s first (official) winner since Matt Leinart in 2004.
Williams had a long stretch of success in the middle of the season and nearly led the Trojans to the College Football Playoff.
Jan. 2, 2023: Pac-12 plummets in postseason
Off to a great start with bowl wins by Oregon State, Oregon and Washington, the league was not able to take advantage in its 3 final matchups. USC blew another big lead and lost the Cotton Bowl to Tulane by 1 point, UCLA lost the Sun Bowl to Pitt by 2 points and the Utes were rolled by Penn State in their second-straight Rose Bowl. The Pac-12 stumbled home with a 3-4 bowl record.
The league hasn’t had a successful bowl slate since going 6-3 in 2014.